Lifestyle ReDesign: From Photographer to Global Brand Manager

Today, I’m meeting Shab Ashagaria.  Shab and I have worked together for almost three years now. She works at ReTrak, a Dallas based consumer electronics company,  where we work together on a lot of retail projects. She was in London the week I interviewed her at the beautiful Langham Hotel. We talk work, work/life balance, travel passions and what she thinks about us Londoners.

Keep scrolling to read the interview or you can listen in to the podcast to hear Shab and I chat.

 

Why are you in London, Shab?

Hi, Zoe. Thanks for having me. I’m in London because of a opportunity that we got with Shopping Nation to go on air and talk about our products. It’s been a really great experience because that was an incredible day, but also just being able to explore the city and see what it’s like on your side of the pond.

Amazing. I know you’ve told me many times that you really, really like London, which is great.

I am in love with London. I mean, it’s so funny because you guys complain about these grey skies and the rain. Today, the sun’s out, and I’m a little disappointed by that, so I actually … I love what you dread about London.

So funny. so tell us, what do you actually do at ReTrak? and what are you up to right now? 

I handle the brand management side at ReTrak. That consists of a whole lot of things, but as a general summary, it’s copywriting for all of our products, it’s the branding, it’s working with our creative team and pushing what demographic we’re gearing towards, who our target is, some social media. I mean, it’s a little bit of anything and everything that helps define the brand.

I know that you are a very creative person. Obviously, I’ve known you for quite a while now. You have a few other special skills that I’d like to talk to you about, so enlighten us. 

Photography is definitely one of them. When I started at ReTrak, I was actually in charge of the lifestyle photography, but as my role has evolved, that’s kind of become more of a personal hobby on the side. I don’t get as much time as I’d like to continue to dabble in that, but when I do, it’s a really great outlet to go out, shoot portraits, and just kind of embrace that creativity outside of work as well.

Do you think that this trip to London has inspired you in any way in terms of creative for ReTrak and maybe also creative in your personal life? Are there things that you will change, and move forward, after coming here?

Absolutely. Just walking around here, one thing I’ve noticed is that everyone is very fearless in their fashion. Back home, we have a pretty standard look of this is what’s attractive, this is what’s normal, this is what’s acceptable. I think one of my favourite things here is just seeing that everyone is embracing their own uniqueness, embracing their own personality. It’s not a cookie cutter type of thing, so that’s very inspiring to me, just embracing being unique.

Then the other thing is, as you know, we have talked to so many strangers while we’ve been out here, I mean, all sorts of walks of life, different countries, different backgrounds, different work, experiences. It’s been really inspiring to just talk to all of these people and get to know them differently.

That’s awesome. I’m interested to know where do you actually prefer working? I know in Dallas, where you’re based, that you work in an office, but out of choice, where would you work? Would you work on the road? Would you travel more?

I love travelling. In a perfect world, I think it’s really, really nice to have a home base. I really believe in working remotely, but I also think it’s dependent upon the position. For me, right now, I work with our creative team a lot, and a lot of that is reviewing artwork, and being there in person, and kind of coming up with ideas and brainstorming together. With that being said, I think the best way is hybrid. I’m all about hybrid. Be in the office when you need to be. When you have experiences that will help push that creativity or push your vision, then I fully believe in travelling, and working remote, and gaining that experience and bringing it back home.

What would you say your favourite gadgets that you’re using at the moment or favourite tack to do your work and also your personal life? It could be actual apps. It could be physical products.

I’m going to go old school and just say my smartphone. I mean, I don’t know if that counts as old school, but it’s just such a basic, boring answer, but it really is the all-in-one solution. I can handle email. I can handle calls. I can handle texts. I have access to all the apps in the world. Even as a photographer, I actually get a lot of slack because I’m here in London. I didn’t bring a camera because I didn’t want to lug it around, but I can rely on my smartphone. I can rely on portrait mode to get that depth of field and have that professional-looking photo without carrying around $4,000 in gear.

Do you actually work, as well, from your smartphone?

I do. I definitely do. A big part of that is I’ve never been the cookie cutter, nine to six worker. This is a terrible habit, but I’ll admit that I do it. I wake up first thing in the morning, open up my smartphone, get on my email, and read through email. It’s a curse and a blessing all at once because you are accessible all the time, and you can work all the time, so through the boundaries are a little bit blurry, but it really does … It does enable me to work from anywhere.

I mean, I certainly suffer from, I would say, overworking, due to how easy it is to use your smartphone. I play around with trying to find boundaries all the time. Some days I succeed, most days I don’t. Are you very specific about when you use it or do you feel that it really starts to encroach a lot on your private time?

I think it definitely goes into private time. It’s funny because it’s so instinctive. I don’t even realize I’m doing it, and next thing I know, I have my smartphone in my hand, and I’m checking email. It could be before dinner with my boyfriend on a Saturday night. It could be at five in the morning when I’ve just woken up. I mean, I really don’t have a lot of boundaries. I have promised myself to be a little bit better about that, but at the same time, I think that’s kind of the nature of the game. Things come up at random times. It’s not here for convenience, and you’re getting stuff done. I think when you have that kind of hustle mentality, you don’t necessarily mind it as much to have to be accessible at all times, but there are definitely times where I’m like, “Okay. I need a little bit of boundary.”

How do you relax?

Great question. It’s funny because, for a while, when I was working at ReTrak, I was also doing a lot of side projects, photographies and social media. It got to the point where I was working, and I was coming home and I was working, and then the weekends were working. It was just a lot, right? What happened is, when it came to relaxing, I didn’t know what that felt like. It almost came to a point where for me to relax was uncomfortable. I could have just worked a nine-hour day, but I get home and I actually have the opportunity to not have to be working, and I feel guilty for it. It was a very, very bizarre feeling, but I think I’m finally getting better at that. I have to admit, I love a good old-fashioned come home and turn on a really great show and just get lost in it.

What are your favourite shows?

I mean, who doesn’t love Game of Thrones? I love anything thriller. Just started the show Mindhunter on Netflix. I’m watching Riverdale, which is a take on the Archie comics murder mystery, so that’s been fun as well. Anything that I can … it’s kind of fiction I can get lost in and become a part of the narrative.

Are you a reader?

I’d like to be. I love the idea of being a reader. I am the person who will go out and buy books and get the gratification that is equivalent to having read the book just by buying it, which is pathetic, but it’s so true. I’m not a huge reader right now, but I am going to try to be. What I actually want to do … I think the big problem is a lot of the books that I would buy are the self-help, the motivational, inspirational books. I think what I need to be reading is more fiction or memoir, something that gives me an avenue to kind of escape, and have an imagination, and have some fun with it.

Amazing. What’s your favourite city? Which city do you think gives you energy?

Okay, so I’m not just doing this to suck up to you. It’s so funny because London was never in my top ten by any means, maybe not even top 20. I don’t know, but I love London. This is my first time here, and it has really and truly inspired me in a way that I think other places haven’t, so I’m going to go ahead and say London right now.

That makes me very happy.

Well, it’s been very energizing. Like I said, I mean, I’m very big on different cultures and very different backgrounds, and so it’s so awesome to come somewhere where every person I interact with has a different accent, they have a different story, they have a different background. It’s energizing and fun.

What’s interesting is people find me interesting because I’m from Texas. You throw that out there, and they’re like, “Ooh, Americans. I love Americans.” I’m like, “Hey, I love that you think I’m interesting. That’s great.”

If somebody was going to whisk you away on holiday, what would be your dream destination?

This time last year I was actually in Thailand, and it rocked my world. I’m not a big beach person. I’ve always thought of myself as more of the city life type of girl, but Thailand was phenomenal. I mean, the people are so, so friendly. The food is to die for. The sights are like something out of a postcard, and it’s affordable.

Where did you go in Thailand?

I went to Ko Phi Phi, Railay Beach, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok.

Oh, wow, so you moved around. What did you think of Bangkok? I loved Bangkok.

Okay, so that’s the funny part. That’s what surprised me because of my boyfriend and I, we actually got into a little spat about it because he’s like … He’s the outdoorsy type. We need to spend all of our time on the beach. I’m like, “No, no, no, no. We need to spend our time in the city.” So we compromised and we did a 50/50. I fully expected to not care for the beach, want to stay in the city.

What we did is we started off in paradise. We started off with the beaches, and massages every day, relaxing, going island hopping. I mean, that’s a thing, island hopping. Then the second half of our trip, we went to Chiang Mai and then Bangkok. Honestly, after experiencing that sort of paradise and then going into city life, we kind of had the blues for a few days. I was totally shocked because we didn’t love the city nearly as much as we loved the islands.

Yeah. Oh, the islands are magnificent.

Phenomenal. I mean, crystal clear water. It’s unreal.

Did you dive or go snorkelling?

We went snorkelling when we went island hopping. We jumped off the long tail boats and did a little bit of low-key snorkelling, nothing too professional or out there. I think it’s so amazing to go somewhere that you’ve seen in pictures, and they really don’t do them justice, and we wake up every morning and say, “Wow, this is real life.” It’s crazy.

The people that I found just in the area incredibly, incredibly kind. I mean, you think people are kind here? Over there, it’s on another level.

Yeah, they are, I mean, some of the nicest people that I’ve ever met. On top of that, one thing I want to note is we got full-body massages one hour at a time for probably about $10. I mean, back in the States, you can pay $100 for a mediocre massage. That was a total game-changer for us too, I mean, just the experiences and the … It was a phenomenal trip.

I guess that leads nicely to my next question, which is about how you get inspired. I feel like you’re quite bitten by the travel bug.

I love living in Dallas, Texas. It’s a really great home base to have, but sometimes I’ll feel like things get a little bit stagnant, and I’ll realize, “Oh, I haven’t travelled in a while.” I was in Sedona just the week before this and then came straight to London. It really, I feel like, is just all so good for the mind, body, and soul. You become recharged. You see things differently. Because I think if you stay in your bubble all the time, that’s really the only thing you know, and that’s actually quite detrimental. You just get a better world view and you realize the world is much, much greater than you are. There’s so much more out there than your little day-to-day problems. It’s really inspiring just to see how other people go about their lives, the creative inspiration, the architecture, the outdoors, the different cuisine. I mean, just everything is very, very inspiring when you travel.

Is there a particular event in your life that really had a huge impact on you and changed the way that you see the world, or maybe that hasn’t happened yet?

In terms of how I see the world, I will say this. I’m going to take this question in two parts. One I’m going to take is how I see the world, and one I’m going to take is kind of how I saw myself and career-wise. Just in terms of how I see the world, I was in Sedona last week. There are these beautiful red rocks, and the city is just known for the spiritual energy, the meditation, the yoga, the vortexes. It was all so hyped up before I went. I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, whatever. It’s all these spiritual yogis who are over the top.” I went there, and as I was about to leave, I was watching, and it just … To be surrounded by such beauty and to feel that energy, and the calm, and the stillness, it was like that was kind of a … It was a humbling moment for me because I think we spend so much time stressing about the little things in our lives. Having that experience was almost … I don’t know the word for it.

Magical?

It was magical, yeah. It changed my perspective on things and how I react to situations coming back home. It was really, really great. Now, on the other hand, what’s changed things for me from a work and inspirational perspective was going to QVC for on-air training. It’s really funny because I went to a sales meeting with my coworker Jenna.  I went from kind of the branding side to help pitch our augmented reality products. They mentioned, “We’re gonna need somebody from your side to go on air.” Jenna and our rep Tony were like, “Shab, Shab, that’s you. That’s all you. You need to do it.” What’s so funny is it made me feel so uncomfortable that I was like, “Okay, this is that whole do shit out of your comfort zone and things get better,” so I said, “Okay, I have to do it,” but it’s nothing I ever would have thought of on my own.

Then the day that I went to training, it was just such a awesome process that made something so unapproachable feel approachable. Naturally, that’s what led to me coming to London for the Shopping Nation opportunity. I think it really goes to show, as you get older, I mean, there really are no bounds. Do things you’re not comfortable with because you never know what it might lead to. Worst-case scenario, who cares? It’s not for you. It’s not a big deal. Best-case scenario, you tried something different, and you learned, and you grew from it.

I mean, I was, obviously, with you on set at Shopping Nation. I knew that you were going to be amazing.  Which is why I put you forward for it. I had full knowledge that you would do an amazing job. I feel like it’s given you a new-found sense of confidence. Would you say that? Because I mean, you really nailed it.

Thank you.

Everybody was so happy with what you’ve done. The video is above and the channel is on Sky 651. 

I think so, yeah. No, it really has, and I don’t mean like a big head or an ego by any means, but like I said, once you do something that you’re so uncomfortable with and you kind of tell yourself, “Uh, that’s not for me. I would never try that,” and then you actually do it, it does increase your sense of confidence. It increases your desire to do things that are uncomfortable more often, so yeah, I would absolutely say it has.

I mean, you’ve achieved some really cool things now in the last few months or so. I mean, looking to the future, you’ve conquered one … maybe not fear, but you conquered something quite big and quite exciting. What’s next? Do you have anything exciting in your mind lined up, or is it a secret?

We’re staying at the Langham Hotel right now, and BBC is next door, so right after this interview, I am going to go drop off an application to BBC, and I will be your local broadcast journalist. That is my goal. Hopefully, by tomorrow, I’ll get a callback, and we’ll rock and roll.

Awesome. I think they would love you on the BBC.

I’m totally kidding, but my childhood dream was broadcast journalism, so it’s kind of funny to have these opportunities and get a small, tiny, tiny sense of what that would be like. Yeah, as far as what the future holds, I don’t know 100%. I think that’s what I’m feeling out right now, but I definitely do feel like I’m evolving, and I think that’s what your 20s are for.

Definitely. And your 30s and your 40s.

And your 50s, and your 60s, and your 70s. I mean, we like to say you have a timeframe to evolve, but that’s so not true. Yeah, we’ll see where the journey goes. I don’t know yet.

Wow, it’s so exciting, so exciting. Well, I’ve been so pleased to talk to you today, Shab. I’m sure that a lot of the readers would love to follow you and see what you’re up to. How can they best do that?

I think Twitter would be great. If you want to reach out to me, my handle is @shabdamn. 

 

 

I’m Zoe Langman, a 42-year-old welsh Nomad. On December 19th 2017, I packed up my flat, put all my essentials into a suitcase, and started my Nomadic Journey. I don't think it's ever too late to reinvent or redesign your life. I'm currently in Bali on a creative sabbatical, planning my next lifestyle redesign.

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