How do you manage the ups & downs of starting your own business? In this episode of Career Relaunch, Noz Nozawa, a former Tech Marketer turned Interior Designer shares her thoughts on the emotional impact of running your own business, how your perceptions of self worth can get intertwined with your work, and the importance of support networks. I also share some thoughts on where you can create some support structures in your own career.

Key Career Insights

  1. Formal training can be valuable, but not always necessary—research and explore your options and listen to your instincts when preparing to make the leap. Your road to success may not resemble anyone else’s.
  2. If you experience a loss of momentum and confidence, consider seeking knowledge from outside of your immediate professional network to connect with others who have had the same difficulties.
  3. Surround yourself with people who support and inspire you—or both!—to avoid feeling isolated.

Tweetables to Share

Resources Mentioned

Free Tool: Network Builder

Mental FuelDuring this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I talked about the importance of building a support network. For some help in doing this, you can download my “NETWORK BUILDER” Worksheet.

Register free below to access this resource and gain access to my entire Career Resource Hub. If you’re already a member, simply login to access this resource.

Register free to access resource

About Noz Nozawa, Interior Designer

Noz Nozawa, Colin Price Photography

Photo credit: Colin Price Photography

Ever since she was a little girl, Noz Nozawa wanted to be an interior designer. Or an architect. Whatever job would let her work on houses all day. But her father encouraged her to focus on business instead. So she graduated from college, landed a great job at Clorox, and hopped over to the tech industry in 2011. But in 2014, she couldn’t ignore her “calling” anymore – so she “retired” from her successful marketing career to follow her passion for interior design. Despite not having formal training, she launched her own business right out the gate. Two very challenging, roller coaster sink-or-swim self-employed years later, her little business is growing and thriving, and she’s never looked back. She now runs Noz Design, a full-service residential interior design firm based in San Francisco, serving clients from coast to coast. With a focus on eclectically modern spaces, Noz Design creates well-appointed homes that not only reflect their dwellers’ lifestyles and tastes, but also maximize a space’s functionality and a project’s budget. Follow Noz on Instagram and Twitter.

Did You Enjoy This Episode? Please Let Us Know!

Comments, Suggestions, or Questions?

If you have any lingering thoughts, questions, or topics you would like covered on future episodes, record a voicemail for me right here. I LOVE hearing from listeners!
Leave Joseph a Voicemail
You can also leave a comment below. Thanks!

Episode Interview Transcript

Teaser (first ~15s): I didn’t realize how much a part of my self-confidence being self-sufficient financially was for me. For the first time in my entire adult life, I relied on another person to pay for my life.

Joseph: Hello, Noz. Good to talk with you again, and thanks so much for joining us today.

Noz: Thanks so much for having me on. I’m super excited for all of your questions.

Joseph: Can you first start off by telling us what you’re focused on right now in your career and your life?

Noz: Absolutely. Right now, I am focused on growing my little business. This summer, I’ll be taking classes and getting really good at AutoCAD. I’m also, this summer, going to be looking for an intern. That’ll be my first person that works with me. I’m also potentially considering another side project where I would be restoring junked up ratty, old chairs and giving them new life in really bold and surprising fabrics to represent how you really don’t have to be beholden to any particular type of style.

Joseph: Very cool. It sounds like your business is going well, and you’re doing a little bit of hiring, and you’ve even got some side projects going. It sounds like you’ve got a lot going on. I was wondering if you could take us back to the time before you launched Noz Design. What were you up to and what were you working on?

Noz: Before the interior design business came about, I actually was in a completely different space of internet tech marketing. I went to school for business, focused in marketing—that was undergrad—and came out of that in a marketing career. I went from consumer packaged goods to the tech industry.

I made the transition several years ago and thought that was it. I felt like the culture was faster-paced. People were more willing to take risks and make mistakes, but it was probably just over two years ago that I started to get really itchy and realize that I wasn’t still fulfilled. There was just so much more that I wanted to do, and I kept rationalizing why I didn’t need to be in interior design in order to love it and have a passion. My career pays for my passion. This way, I can afford to shop for new décor and renovate and whatever.

The first moment when I realized that this full-time career on marketing is not where it’s at was when I got caught at work doing an interior design concept for a friend of mine instead of the thing I was supposed to be doing. It just all became exceedingly clear from there that I needed to do something more than I was doing.

Joseph: One of the things that struck me, Noz, when we were speaking a few months ago, was that you actually knew from the point you were really young that you wanted to go into interior design. Is that right?

Noz: Yeah, I was obsessed. There were so many times when I was younger and so much less afraid of needing to make money or needing to be realistic or whatever else it is, before all of that came in to cloud my vision, I knew. When I was five years old, I would play with Legos, and the only thing that I would ever make was houses. I only made houses, and I put little wall partitions in. I became very adamant about the proper way to construct Lego walls so that they wouldn’t fall down. I would get really upset that there weren’t thinner pieces so that I could make more realistic chairs and toilets. It was out of control.

My dad was a general contractor and a real estate broker, so he kind of owned a full vertical of property development in Los Angeles. Even he saw it, but he was actually the person to discourage it

Joseph: Why did he discourage it?

Noz: My dad was born super poor to Japanese immigrants in 1922, and they went through the Great Depression, and they went through World War II, and the family was interned, where we lost everything. They had to build the businesses back up after that. With all the struggle that my dad and his family went through when he was a kid, I think the last thing he wanted was for me to sign up for a life of struggle.

To him, an easy life, a good life, meant having a career where you didn’t work very hard. You didn’t stress too much about anything because you always had a pay check coming. That took shape in the form of a marketing career for me, and that was something that I did to make him proud and feel safe.

Joseph: How much were you thinking about interior design when you’re working in those offices doing marketing?

Noz: All the time.

Joseph: How did you deal with that?

Noz: In my apartments, I would just spend a lot of time thinking about how to decorate, redecorate, paint, repaint, furnish, whatever, any home that I lived in at the time. I spent a lot of time reading magazines and convincing myself that I didn’t have to follow my passion for interior design in order to have it and maintain it and cherish it. I also told myself that I had other passions, which is true.

I do believe, now, you don’t need to have just one life passion. I think people can have multiple passions and honor those all at the same time. It was easy enough to tell myself, ‘Interior design is my passion at home or on the side. That’s what I do on weekends.’ I would peak around inside of open houses on Sundays in really fancy parts of San Francisco. I could do that, but I could also really care about and enjoy and be passionate about my marketing career. That’s what I told myself until I couldn’t anymore.

Joseph: When you couldn’t anymore, can you take us through the decision-making process you went through there, the one where you ultimately decided you couldn’t juggle the two anymore and you had to either leap in or not pursue it at all?

Noz: My brain was in such tumult at that time. For one, I discovered I didn’t really like having a boss, which was funny for me to have discovered. I’m pretty insubordinate and very overly independent and still not able to put the pieces together for so long. ‘What I need to do is go into the interior design career. I need to go back to school,’ is one of the paths that I had gone down at some point, or, ‘I need to figure out how I can start entry-level at a firm that will hire me for my raw talent and passion, and then eventually, I can make that into an interior design.’ I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me for so long, ‘You don’t do well with bosses. You should maybe start your own business,’ but eventually, I go there. That was one of the things: realizing I’m terrible with orders, I’m terrible with having a boss.

I think the other biggest thing was that I started to realize that I cared more about actually doing something with interior design, I cared more about thinking about it than I cared about the marketing stuff that I was doing. I was most recently, before I set out to do this, working at a tech startup that was actually in interior design, architecture, etc. It was Houzz. Their whole business model is about bringing technology, social media, and online powerhouse tools to the residential building and home improvement industry. On the regular, I was directly adjacent to helping figure out tools or marketing opportunities or educational opportunities for interior designers, architects, general contractors, tile installers, pillow makers. All the people that I would be working with as an interior designer, I already got to work with them.

I got about as close as I think I could have in a marketing career to this industry. When that wasn’t enough, and it increasingly was not enough, that was when I was like, ‘Let me just be honest with myself here. I don’t want to work with interior designers. I want to be an interior designer.’

Joseph: One of the things you mentioned was the formalized training. I hear this question a lot from people who are trying to make a switch into a new career that builds on one of their passions, ‘I’ve got to go back to school for it,’ or, ‘I don’t know if I have enough time or money to do the formalized training.’ You chose not to pursue the formalized training route. How did you think through that, whether or not you needed that in order to make the leap?

Noz: I actually continued to think about it and doubt whether I needed to go back for formal training even after I made the leap. At the time, when I was making the leap, what I had decided was I have met so many interior designers through my job at Houzz, so many of whom never did go to school for it and were able to find workarounds or believed fully that they didn’t need it.

I care about home. I care about my clients living a good life at home and raising families in good homes. Knowing that I didn’t have that much interest in pursuing a lot of commercial work, it became clear, ‘I don’t need a certificate of interior design, I don’t need an education or membership in X, Y, Z interior design societies in order to be able to do the kind of interior design that I wanted.’

But then, even after, I didn’t have a whole lot of business going on certainly after I took the leap, so I had some time, and I very, very seriously considered going to an extension university program to take classes in interior design in order to earn up to what is called a Certificate of Interior Design. Then again, I reached out to someone that I saw on LinkedIn who had taken that program and then owned her own interior design business and asked her what she thought of it, and she did not have the most glowing of reviews.

I’m not one of those people who needs to have some kind of proof of achievement at the end of a journey to feel like I’ve gone on that journey and earned my way through it. I’m totally not against taking classes, but when I decided for me, ‘I don’t need a certificate to feel like I’m an interior designer,’ that was the point at which I was like, ‘I’m totally fine just taking one of the classes in things I’m interested in.’

Joseph: Going back to one of the other things you mentioned, you mentioned your father had some influence on some of your career decisions earlier on. How did you share the news with him or other people in your life about the fact that you’re going to be leaving your traditional job behind to launch your own interior design business?

Noz: My dad specifically actually passed away right before I graduated college, but I already had my job offer with Clorox over on the other side of the bay. It’s what brought me to San Francisco. I took that job. I continued forward with it and stuck with it to honor his memory because it was something that made him really proud. He really wanted me to do it, but he was a business owner his whole life, so if I think about what his reaction would have been—I had a really great career where I ended proving that I could do this, and certainly I could go back to it if I needed to, but—aside from him wanting me to have an easier life, I don’t think he would have ever wanted me to follow a life without passion.

With everybody else, I was super concerned, certainly with my mother and my fiancé’s mother, about what they would think, what are these life decisions her son is about to make with this girl who’s being irresponsible? That’s everything that went through my brain. Ultimately, it was so funny. We broke the news to her in person, and she just smiles and she goes, ‘You know what’s so funny? When I saw that you’re quitting your job, I told Bob, “She can start her own business now.”’ I guess that was her whole instinct about me, and I’d never mentioned it. I’d never ever said anything about wanting to start my own business.

My mom had the exact same reaction. My dad was, at some point, very, very stressed, and she had said to him, ‘You should just go take a job somewhere. Why do you work for yourself? Why do you run this business? It just causes you so much stress all the time.’ He said to her, and then she told me this, ‘I would much rather do this and live with this kind of stress than ever, for another day in my life, have to work for somebody else.’ She basically, in that one sentence and that one story, made clear that she knew that I was always meant to work for myself.

I was really lucky. It wasn’t the way that I thought things would go. I have Asian parents and immigrant parents within one or two generations of me. They went over really well, and all my other friends were just like, ‘Thank god. She’ll stop complaining about work finally.’

Joseph: Was there anything else surprising about this transition for you?

Noz: A lot of things have been really surprising. When you’re operating on inertia and you are operating on the sheer momentum of the leap, to me, I found that it was very invigorating and refreshing and renewing and exciting. I got so much done so quickly after I took the leap – figure out a logo, develop my business card, set the website up, take pictures of my place so that I could have some kind of portfolio, all these stuff. When that momentum wears off, because it inevitably does, that for me was the big surprise. That was the part that was hard.

Joseph: How quickly did that come for you?

Noz: A few months in.

Joseph: What was that like to go through one of those dips?

Noz: That was the darkest time. When I finally quit my job and set off on my own, I was distracted by all the excitement of setting up the business that when things came to a lull, I realized finally how much I needed to recover from mentally and emotionally from the business. That was really dark. I had no idea that I was capable of being super depressed.

Joseph: Was it the trajectory of the business or was it something personally as a business owner that you were struggling with?

Noz: It was definitely a combination. Part of it was how bad being stuck in this other career path had gotten for me. It sounds so privileged, ‘I ended up really depressed from my very lucrative, high-paying tech startup,’ but it’s real. We are human beings. It’s still an unnatural place for a person to be in a car for four hours a day, working at a job with no privacy and not feeling fulfilled by it at all. You can get depressed. Maybe I was more of a weakling than other people who can trudge through it in life for longer, but that was a contributing factor absolutely: having to recover from that and all of the changes that happened all at once. My fiancé moved in, and I suddenly had no income for the first time in my life.

I didn’t realize how much a part of my self-confidence being gainfully employed and self-sufficient financially was for me. I didn’t realize that money was so much a part of who I saw myself as being in terms of feeling powerful or fierce or independent. For the first time in my entire adult life, I relied on another person to pay for my life, and that sucked. It was super lame. I had savings, but those ran out, and I was socially isolated.

That was two parts. One, I went from being in office all the time to being home alone all day, trying to figure out what to do next. I also didn’t have many clients. I had a couple of side projects while I was still employed at Houzz, and then when those projects ended, I felt accomplished. I had pictures taken of them, but I didn’t have anything else to do.

I sort of opted out of a lot of other things. I wasn’t feeling confident as an interior designer. I wasn’t feeling confident as a self-employed person or a business owner because I didn’t feel like I had anything to show for it. I was like, ‘You know what? This was incredibly easy to set up a business. I went to city hall, I paid $30 to register my business with a tax collector of San Francisco, I filed my business name in the newspaper for $60, and I bought a GoDaddy domain name and put a website up. That’s all it takes to be an interior designer officially, and frankly, you don’t even need a website.

I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe how easy this was,’ and that was a great thing. Then while things started to get dark and my confidence start shaking, I realized, ‘Oh god, it’s way too easy. Anyone can do this. It’s not special. Anyone can just set up a business. It doesn’t even matter.’ I’m obviously like, ‘Anyone could be a fraud and do this, which means that anyone else might think I’m a fraud, and what if I am a fraud? I don’t have clients. I don’t have projects I’m working on. Am I a fraud? I must be a fraud.’

I ended up opting out of social situations because I didn’t want people to ask how things were going. I didn’t want to have to answer whether my business was going great or not, and so I just avoided social interaction, and then that ended up being its own self-contributing factor in this depressed, dark state that I was in.

Joseph: How did you ultimately get out of that state?

Noz: A couple of things happened. One was external factors. I got projects, which gave me something to do. It made me feel busy, and then I would regularly get feedback from my clients that I was listening to them and I was delivering on what they hoped I could do. That was really confidence building. It took me out of things.

Quite frankly, I don’t have an easy answer for the rest of it. The rest of it was just kind of putting a name on the fact that I was depressed. When I finally knew what it was, I started reading about it. It was also around the time that people in the media started covering stories of how entrepreneurship and depression are very closely linked and correlated, so it felt really good to know that I wasn’t alone.

Joseph: What do you think makes entrepreneurship lead to this sort of emotional downs that you were feeling?

Noz: Things like social isolation. You’re working all the time. You’re probably working by yourself in a hole. You’re not in an office necessarily unless you have funding. You’re constantly having to pretend in social situations like things are going well, or certainly, you feel the pressure to say that things are going well when, inside, you’re just lying.

The consequence of fronting like you’re doing great, but actually you know behind the scenes it’s not going well, the problem is that you’ve now put a wall up, and you can’t connect with that person deeply anymore. You’re suddenly aware that you’re lying to this person about how well things are going, and so now, everything else is kind of false. It puts you on a different frame of mind versus being vulnerable and being open to real, authentic human connection. You’re kind of just networking and small-talking at that point, which I personally think is very isolating, certainly for introverts in the world – having to front constantly and not really connecting with anyone in a social environment. That’s exhausting.

Really, the ‘fake it till you make it’ thing is so much more true than I ever thought it could be, which is great because it means that everyone is empowered to fake it till they make it, but it’s also kind of depressing because it was like, ‘At what point, if ever, will I actually be able to feel like I’m truly living this life that everyone thinks I’m living?’ Certainly for me with interior design, if this is my life’s work and if I suck at it, then what does that mean about me and my life? Is my life as worthless as this business that I built? Your brain just starts doing crazy things and making very reasonable but outlandish connections, I think, between your self-worth and your life and your life’s work if you choose to follow it full-time.

Joseph: That makes a lot of sense. As a business owner myself, I definitely feel like you’re much more exposed when you’re working on your own. Those shock absorbers that you get working in large companies are just completely gone, so you feel those ups and downs a lot more. When you look back on these ups and downs, was there something that you learned about yourself?

Noz: One thing I discovered is how deeply empathetic I am as a human being, how much I care about other people and how much I care about what everyone’s going through, how important having a safe and happy home is for your mental health. The home is nourishing and restorative. These things ended up becoming a major part of my business values actually as an interior designer, knowing that there are a lot of people out there who feel like they can’t talk about these vulnerable topics like mental health and social anxiety and all the likes.

That was one of the things that I realized about myself. It was like, ‘This is amazing. I’m so much better able to connect really deeply and empathize very thoroughly with people who are going through these dark phases or maybe dark realities of just the way that their brains work.’

The other one, which was more obvious I guess, is the fact that I’m able to come out of it gave me a lot of self-worth and confidence.

Joseph: If there were somebody else out there who is on the cusp of thinking about launching their own business or pursuing their passion full-time and turning it into a business, do you have any advice for that person?

Noz: One, do it. Just do it. Two, talk to a lot of people and people that you might not already know. I realized, through the process of trying to find people to talk to, that I didn’t have anyone to have as a mentor or a person to get advice from. If you spent your entire career working in an office with other people, there’s a very good chance that every other co-worker that you’re surrounded with has only ever worked in an office with other people. It’s not as likely that you know people in your professional network that have done what you might want to do, but there are small business owners and business owners everywhere looking to help out and share their stories because every single person who has set off to do their own thing has gone through it. It’s not easy for anyone.

I think every business owner, even if they’re super, super busy, if you reach out with interest in understanding what it’s been like for them or pitfalls they should watch out for, the worst that happens is you don’t get a response. If you don’t get a response, don’t take it personally. It’s probably just that they’re busy or they literally didn’t see it. I didn’t realize how few people outside of the office tech marketing world use LinkedIn. Nobody uses LinkedIn regularly in this space. If that’s the only way that you reached out to them, there’s a good chance that they might not see it, and it’s nothing personal.

Joseph: That’s great advice, Noz. I can tell you that as an introvert myself, I definitely have a tendency to reflect way too much on my own or try to figure everything out by myself. I definitely feel like following your advice on reaching out and having a couple of conversations can be so much more clarifying.

Along those lines, if people want to connect with you or learn more about your interior design, can you tell us where they can go? Also just give us a quick snapshot of the projects you’re focused on right now.

Noz: Absolutely. Folks can find me @NozNozawa if you want to see some of my social stuff, and it will all link back to my website.

My focus is in residential design. I care so much about making sure that people have a space that is healing and restorative to come back to at the end of a long day of work. One of the things that I’ve realized coming out of that is that I have the opportunity to do more for people who would never be my clients, so I actually, as of last year, decided that a good portion of my proceeds annually will go to a local women’s shelter in San Francisco where they take in child and women and survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking and give them a temporary safe haven to call home while they get back on their feet and figure out what home means. It’s brought so much more meaning to the work that I do.

For me to be able to have such the privilege, the incredible and immense privilege of spending my day doing something that’s self-actualizing and meaningful to me, why would I not share that? Why would not I share this incredible privilege and do pro bono work for shelters and share the living that I’ve been able to make with people who have so much less and deserve so much more than they were given in this life?

Joseph: Noz, that’s really inspiring to hear. Thanks so much for talking with us about your life as an interior designer, not only how you made the decision to start your business but also some of the emotional struggles that a lot of business owners deal with but don’t always talk about. Thank you so much for being so honest.

It’s also great to hear you’re not only living out your own dream but also helping other people create comfortable homes for themselves and also giving back to the community there in San Francisco, which is so important.

Noz: Thank you so much. I had a blast. This has been really cool, and I hope that if anyone’s listening who’s connecting at all with some of the things that I’ve said I’ve gone through, by all means, reach out anytime.

About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu is dedicated to helping people relaunch their careers and do more meaningful work. As a public speaker, career consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch® podcast, he shares insights from his decade of experience relaunching global consumer brands to help professionals to more effectively market their personal brands.

About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu helps aspiring professionals relaunch their careers to do work that matters. As a keynote speaker, career & personal branding consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast, his passion is helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands.