In Conversation with Ien Chi
the creative director at jubilee media, touches on his approach to having authentic conversations, holding space for others and the positive impact of letting go of previous ways of being, positionalities and opinions.
“Life is a verb, and so am I - verb'ing all the time. There is no conclusion - and the pleasure is in the process.”
— IEN CHI
What’s your story?
I'm the Creative Director at Jubilee Media! Can you believe that?! Sometimes it blows my mind - and I have no idea how I got here. 27 years ago I was born in LA to Korean immigrants, and over the next handful of years I developed an immense passion for filmmaking - which carried me all the way through college and beyond into the commercial-advertising industry. After doing a fair amount of soul-sucking commercial-making for products I didn't believe in and losing some passion for filmmaking in general, I joined Jubilee in 2017 as its lead creative to see if we could create a gigantic community and creative company that stands for human good. The journey has only begun. I like Japanese food, Cloud Atlas, Nujabes, and one day wish to become a monk in a land far far away to achieve nirvana (I'm quite serious about this).
What kind of family did you grow up in? Were there any life lessons your parents passed down to you?
I'm the oldest of two - and my younger brother is seven years younger. My father is a pastor, and my mother mostly a housewife when my brother and I were growing up. I can't think of any one life lesson I learned, but how I interpreted the world growing up was this: My dad told me I can do anything I want and that I'm special. My mom was always pointing out how things could be more perfect. That combination of mom and dad created a son who believed he could do anything he wanted, but that all the time, something wasn't quite perfect. It's only when I got to my mid-twenties that I realized deeper this life lesson for myself: there's no place that I'll get to that is perfect. All is in perpetual motion. Life is a verb, and so am I - verb'ing all the time. There is no conclusion - and the pleasure is in the process.
What inspires you to make human-centric content for your 9-5 and how do you pioneer this outside of your job?
You know, I'm not sure what inspires me - except to say that I do feel more fulfilment in giving of myself rather than taking for myself. What I mean by that is that my filmmaking used to be rooted in personal ambition. I wanted to make the greatest cinema of all time and convinced myself it was because I wanted to contribute the most amazing work to humanity - but really, it was all vanity. When I became really honest with myself about this (only in the past few years), I realized that this personal ambition thing is just an endless void that will never be completely filled by any achievement or praise. That's when I started experimenting with giving more of myself and using my skills to serve others first - and it's just given me more energy than anything else. It's weird - the more I give for others, the more energy I get. In a selfish way, it's pretty energizing. Outside of my job, I still do my best to embody this kind of stance - doing my best to hold space for others, not-judge, and just love people up as best I can. It's not an easy thing to do, but I'm constantly working at it day by day and doing my best to love both myself and other people just as we are.
What's something that amazes you each time you think of it?
What amazes me is what can happen when one lets go of previous ways of being. I used to be very set in my ways and confident about how the world worked. But the more I let go of my own positionalities and opinions, the more the world opens up to me with possibility and wonder. When you start the change yourself, your whole experience of the world changes too. The cliche is true - that if you change yourself, you change the world.
What is it like to be in between cultures and how have you navigated their different approaches to life?
It's awesome! I feel blessed to be Korean-American and to have experienced two vastly different cultures growing up - as if I was exposed to two different dimensions of the universe as an upbringing. It allows deeper empathy, imagination, ways of thinking, and just a lot more appreciation for the world and its diversity. Sometimes when I was younger I was bitter about some of the differences between these cultures - but over time I've learned how to style-flex, and also cherry-pick the coolest parts about each culture I experience for my own life. In terms of navigating between the two worlds, I just do my best to be aware of the context of the situation I'm in and act accordingly. There was a point in high school when I was "too cool" to interact with the more Korean people around me, but now I do my best to connect with people where they're at instead of judging from my own lens. It's not easy per se, but it's a good challenge for me to constantly be open and engage.
How has your cultural context shaped the way you connect with people?
I don't know if this is as cultural as it is a third culture kid thing (I went to an international high school in Seoul, Korea) - but I think moving around a lot and also living internationally has taught me to be more vulnerable with people up front. I adore deep conversations as soon as I meet somebody, and don't have much tolerance for small banter for its own sake. I want to understand people at the deepest levels and understand who they really are. I think this is because I've made so many mistakes in judging people in the past, and people all over the world have really blown my mind - and I've realized over time that absolutely everybody's world view is totally and completely valid. If I'm able to understand how they think and why they are the way they are, it opens up a new part of my brain that I wasn't aware of before.
How do you approach authentic and honest conversations about humanity with people of different backgrounds?
I try and be as authentic as I can be, while letting the other person be as authentic as they can be. This means accepting them just as they are, listening first, and not judging. I try and give everybody the benefit of the doubt - to acknowledge that what they're talking about and experiencing is completely and totally valid because their consciousness is just as valid and meaningful and full and complex as mine. What has helped in the past when listening to the other person speak is to literally pretend that I am them, speaking to me, Ien Chi - and that what they are saying is actually coming out of my own mouth. This is a helpful tool to step into the other person's universe and understand where they're coming from and what they're seeing.
What's one area of your life where you feel like you've challenged normality and societal expectations?
That's a great question! I think one area where I am constantly challenging normality and societal expectations is the level of wonder and awe I carry around a lot of places I go. Sometimes, friends even tell me to stop being so weird and they ask if I'm high on drugs or something - when really I'm just looking at a cloud and going "wow!" Recently, I've been reflecting on this, because sometimes I feel like I'm judged as dumb or naive or something for being so wondrous and in awe of the universe. But I've decided that this is just a part of who I am and I need to own it even more. Life is such a trip, and we're all on a gigantic spinning rock in the middle of nowhere in space hurtling around a fiery star that is circling a massive black hole - and also, there might be an infinite number of other universes besides our own. Tell me life isn't a trip!
What Youtube channel do you think people definitely need to get into and why?:
Kurzgesagt. Intelligent, honest, excellent animation work that provokes thought into so many different realms of life. I believe YouTube needs more of this kind of intentional, deeply thoughtful work that elevates important conversations and reflections. Check it out here.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your previous self?
I don't know if I would give any advice per se. But I'd just tell my previous self how much I love him and how well he's doing. I guess if there were one piece of advice, I'd tell myself to love myself more and appreciate Ien for who he is - and that he doesn't need to do anything to earn anything. He's perfect.