#22 Ariel Kochbarski: A Fashionable Leap Into Self-Employment

I remember Ariel Kochbarski as the prettiest and most popular girl in the New Jersey farm town where she and I grew up. That said, we weren't friends. At the time I was afraid of being ridiculed if I would try to be friendly with someone as popular as Ariel. I didn't have the self-esteem to believe I could talk with anyone. I had a belief, as many middle-school kids do, that some people are on another level, are separate.

When Facebook came about in our college and post-college days, everyone from our small town Montgomery High School class searched and friended each other. Mainly for stalking purposes I'm sure. Did so and so ever graduate from college? Who still lives with their parents? Who has a cool job? You get the picture. 

When I moved from the east coast to Los Angeles, California, it was novel to see if there was someone else from my Central Jersey roots who also took this 3,000 mile jump. Ariel was one of them. 

I was flattered and curious when Ariel contacted me. Excited to connect and open to possibility, I arranged to meet Ariel for my favorite outdoor activity, hiking. To my surprise, we bonded on the most vulnerable of vulnerable topics: our gastrointestinal disorders. Having battled Ulcerative Colitis for most of my adult life, it's comforting to meet someone else who has experienced how debilitating Inflammatory Bowel Disease can be when it's activated. Fourteen year old me never would've guessed it, but Ariel and I have been close friends ever since that tell-all hike.

Ariel inspires me because she hasn't let anything stop her from the 180 lifestyle shift she desired. She boldly leapt from the security working for someone else's company to self-employment in the fashion world. I've had the pleasure of being her friend as she has crafted her dream of a freer lifestyle.

After having worked with the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue, Paul Smith, ENK, Tranoi, and Ragdoll LA, today Ariel writes her own fashion lifestyle blog Of the Momnt and consults with brands on how to conquer wholesale, create content and navigate the current fashion marketplace.

In this interview we get into what it took from Ariel to take this step and we dive into the subject that brought our friendship to fruition... the gut stuff!

At what point were you sure you were going to leave your job to work on your own? How long had you been considering working on your own before you took the leap? Was there something specifically that catalyzed your final decision?

I'm not sure there was a single point, but I can say as early as I can remember I wanted to work for myself...I started plotting how to make it really happen around my 30th birthday, which was 4 years ago (!) and it finally happened this June. I got lucky enough to receive a great client that allowed me the freedom to try it. I had a lot of fear around it, especially since I have Crohn's and the medical insurance needs are a lot different when you are paying for your own benefits BUT despite that, I'm super happy I did it and would not change it at all. 

Did you have a gut-feel of "needing" to leave your job or was it more of a wanting? Can you describe it?

I love that word gut - feeling! I have this all the time. Someone told me once that the greatest gift you can give yourself is to listen to that; it's always right! I had both, I would say a wanting to leave and a sense that if I didn't do it, I'd regret it for the rest of my life. I would fantasize about leaving and all the freedoms it could afford me especially since I worked in sales for the past 4 years and had made the company I was with some sizable dividends, so I figured if I had the ability to create that for them, then I certainly would have that ability to create something sustainable for myself.

Is there anything you wish you had known before you left your previous job? Would you have done something differently?

I have learned a lot since leaving (my job) like about how to set up an LLC and DBA, how to buy your own health insurance, refining my (sales) pitch, tax details, etc. etc. I do wish I had talked to someone who had (made this kind of leap) before about the real particulars of it, to prepare me a bit more for the ups and downs since it's more risky. With an office job you show up and there is work to be done; it's all very seamless. When you work for yourself, you have to create the work to be done and then go do it. Sometimes creating the work takes time, whether it's signing a client, closing a sale, or properly setting up the mental focus to complete tasks in a non-corporate environment. I wasn't initially prepared for that aspect but I am getting better at it and at being my own manager of my time and work.  I'm also learning to manage my own stress and expectations. I've learned to ask for help, which is a hard one for me - I tend to be like, "I can do anything!" and then wear myself out. 

What do you love most about what you're up to now? 

The possibility of it all - things could change in an instant in both a positive and negative way but that's the fun part. 

How did the 180 impact other areas of your life - relationships, family, health and financial? 

Health has been the hardest - I work a lot more and stress a bit more too; plus I just went through a major surgery so the timing on that has been challenging! Now that I am coming off the other side of that though I feel pretty good...I'm meditating to work on anti anxiety techniques and realizing that you can only do so much in a day. My relationships have gotten stronger in a way; I feel very supported by my family and friends, which is totally awesome. Financially it's been good so far but again, I'm trying my best to budget for the ups and downs- it's hard not to want to spend it all at once on new shoes, my downfall! 

Something that not too many people know about you is that you've also struggled with Crohn's disease for many years. Can you tell us about the impact that the disease has had on your decision-making and perspective on how you live your life?  

Yes, it's really a tough one. I commend anyone who has this disease and has managed to find a balance and a way to heal. I think for a long time I was kind of in denial about the disease, like it would just disappear one day and for many years I was really still going full throttle with work and social life so I exacerbated it. I should have slowed down more to give myself more self care but I went the opposite way; like almost as a way for me to say "F**K YOU" to the disease. I've learned that is not the way to be or to make decisions...I can't be in denial about its existence; it's there, and in a way, crohn's is teaching me how to eat, how to rest, and how to face my anxiety and really make an impact to find treatment through different stress reducing techniques so that I don't exacerbate it again. I just went through a surgery to remove my disease, which involved taking out a foot and a half of my intestines so I'd do almost anything to not have to go through that again.  

Did you consider your illness at all when making the change to work for yourself? Did it propel you to want to work for yourself or was it a hurdle for you? Why?

This is a great question - for a long time, Crohn's and my health was a hurdle. I really wasn't well and not only was I not properly acknowledging that, but I was also so, so, so scared to take the leap as I would lose my comprehensive health insurance and stability. I had a lot of fear around that and in receiving proper medical care as a freelancer. Now that I have gone on my own and realize that I can still have access to good medical care (it's expensive but it exists!) it's no longer a hurdle. I find I am less stressed now than I was when I was corporately employed and as stress is a major aggravation to Crohn's; I feel that, in the long run, I'm better off pursuing my dream now then putting it off until I have perfect health; I will always have to monitor my condition regardless of my circumstance, so I shouldn't keep waiting. 

What advice would you give to someone who just learned they have Crohn's disease? 

First I would say, kudos to this person for actually getting it checked out and diagnosed! That's huge as it masks itself as other things. Knowledge is power so now you can start to work with it and heal. Second, I would say get your meds down and start researching what foods make you feel good and what foods don't. I've been keeping a food journal lately as I am doing a LEAP elimination diet (designed specifically for me on what foods do not cause an inflammatory response). If I have something that creates symptoms as I reintroduce foods through this process, then I can look back and determine almost exactly what it was. Third, pay attention to oils - sometimes even if you think you are eating something that is "ok" it isn't necessarily, especially if it's a prepared food or a restaurant dish. I find that using quality cooking oils like 100% extra virgin olive oil or 100% organic coconut oil to cook my food makes a world of difference. Fourth, learn to cook - your own food will always be the best for you as you know exactly what's in it. 

What practices, habits or routines support you in being the Ariel we know today?

Hmmmm...I would say exercise, which consists of pilates, swimming, and walking. Eating well, which I am now working on with a nutritionist. Relaxing with my fiancee on my couch watching movies and staying in touch with my friends- being an east coast transplant my support network is important to me. 

If you could go back and visit a younger Ariel, how old would she be and what would you tell her?

I would tell her to "RELAX". She probably be 15, the age they think my Crohn's started...maybe stress brought it on so I'd tell her to not stress and all will work out. 

What's on the recommended reading list?

For Crohn's, I recommend any information on the LEAP Protocol. I'd also recommend the SCD Diet: Breaking the Habit. It's an interesting theory as to why some people have Crohn's, IBS, Autism, all this stuff relating back to the gut and it's ability to break things down.

My favorite work related book is How to Win Friends and Influence People. It's a classic for a reason. Everyone should read this book.

For pleasure, I'd have to say my favorite author is Barbara Kingsolver. All her books are great!

Favorite quote right now?


"Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day-in and day-out." - Robert Collier

It's really overwhelming to think of all I want to achieve; I like the simplicity of the message here that each day you can get a little closer to your dreams by taking small steps. 

Here's to taking steps toward the dream! Thanks Ariel!