Lily Wan of Surface Mag, On Yes, Yes, No.

Instead of saying, “Okay, let’s see what I can handle, and then add a little bit more and then add a little bit more.” I say, “Just give me everything.” So, yeah, this, I would call like my ‘Yes Phase’.


Roommates are the subject of many a great sit-coms, let's take Friends or How I Met Your Mother for example. If you're lucky, they grow into your late night pizza pals, lonely party plus ones, weekend cuddle buddies, or your 'bitch about work' compadres. They're so many things and more. They come in all shapes and sizes and attitudes. Luckily, I met my match. Lily Wan who now runs around the office of Surface Mag, doing what Lily does, is easily the funniest, most genuine, and 'get shit done' kind of gal. What got me most, has been her way of navigating challenges and seizing opportunities. Ever since her time here in NYC, she's seems to string one moment to the next, moving her closer to some idea she has of her life. It's almost effortless, but having been her roommate, I know how hard she works for everything she achieves. As we sipped OJ and stuffed our mouths with waffles, we began shared thoughts on life, and how saying yes, yes, no, has led her charge in life.



I feel like I found a home at Surface, just how much potential the company has, which is what excites me. It's really inspiring. The fact that it's print focused. How funny is it that I do end up working in journalism and in print. I feel creatively satiated, and I'm propelled to do better.

You can't do everything at once, it's an ebb and flow thing, each of your curiosities or focal points - sometimes you push and pull and you switch things out, I feel like, people expect everything to happen at once. I'm going to do this for a while, and maybe I want to switch [in the future], and yea I can do that. There's just this pressure to do everything now, and if you're not doing it now it's not going to happen, but that's not the way it works.

I moved here a little less than two years ago, right off the gates it was very fast paced and exciting. I was here for a month working at ABC Cocina to pay rent, and I didn't expect to get my first job so soon. Random. They're like, "I don't know why, but we like you! SO, we're going to call you up tomorrow!" And I was like, "Okay ~!" And then that momentum, hearing that and getting the job at Architizer and HWKN really set the pace and set my expectations for myself. It was really super early in my professional life (obviously), but everything I've had, it's been that I'm the first person in that role, and I'm setting what that role is, and it also means that I get to do as much as I possibly can, and once I fill my plate very big I can shave it off and say, "I can't do that, I can't do that, I can't do that" *points to imaginary tasks in air*, and that's just how I approach things, yes, yes, yes, literarily throw everything at me and I'll try to balance it all and once I can't, I'll let you know and then give things to other people. And that's how I took on starting at Architzer and HWKN and how I took on when I started at SURFACE, just saying yes to everything and then I'm killing it off, instead of scaling up. That's a huge process [in my life].

I recently wrote an article about Leslie Koch from Governors Island and she calls her version of that strategy the Spaghetti Strategy, throw the spaghetti and see what sticks. I really enjoyed interviewing her because we really jived on that. Sometimes you let the spaghetti stay out for a little bit and they can get even more sticky, so if you let ideas marinate, you know, then they may work eventually. There's no harm in saying yes. You're only doing yourself a disservice if you already shut yourself down, if you're the first person to shut yourself down, no one will buy your shit.

Instead of saying, "Okay, let's see what I can handle, and then add a little bit more and then add a little bit more." I say, "Just give me everything." So, yeah, this, I would call like my 'Yes Phase'.

'Yes' out of curiosity and can I do this(?), and also out of eagerness. I realized I have an irrelevant major and an irrelevant background, but I'm going to package all of this into a story and I'm very genuine about what I want to do and what I care about, and who I care about, and that's just been a theme wherever I've worked, you know, I care about this product and what we're all working towards and I care about the people making it. That's my yes period, just saying yes to everything. And then ... .

It’s just that we’re ‘adulting’ or whatever and this is just how you adapt, and no less we’re ‘adulting’ in New York, of all places. I don’t know, that was just hard to explain to some of my friends... .

There is a no period, which I think was the most formative. It was Summer to late last year, where I realized, "Dude ... if you want to do well in New York and be sane and satisfy all your passions and feel whole, you have to start saying no to so much." You have to. Saying no, because you understand your value and your time. You understand what you need to mentally focus through your prime. One thing at a time. You know, so there was this 'yes' period where I was doing a million things at a time, and I adopted them with sheer enthusiasm, brute force enthusiasm, and I still do, and I do still take projects on as yes, yes, yes and then scale back, (which isn't the same as over promising and under delivering), but you also have to know yourself. 

I feel like last Summer and over the end of the year was coincidentally when I had the most friendship problems, but it was also a time I just had to hope that I could genuinely express to the people close to me why I need this time for myself and why I'm saying no and hope that they are hearing that the no is not no to them, but yes to my time and yes to my holistic self.

It's just that we're 'adulting' or whatever and this is just how you adapt, and no less we're 'adulting' in New York, of all places. I don't know, that was just hard to explain to some of my friends. But that difficult time was also because I became so passionate in what I was doing and I wanted to be good at what I was doing and focus on it, and learn more about it, and spend more of my time immersing myself in that world. 

There's nothing wrong with that, being absorbed and wanting more out of life, and maybe if you're shut out [it's not healthy], but it's, I don't know ... now I'm entering this see-saw period, finding that balance. Yes phase. No Phase. And now this pendulum.

Doing nothing is also very valuable, it's an investment into your sanity. Nothingness is super powerful. We don't get to feel this in the everyday, because we're just in the flow of everyday. You know,  on a normal day, all of these are just objects, but when I take the time... it's really really cathartic. I love this coach. The texture. I think about the story of how Pash and I dragged it around Brooklyn.

I had this fear that I wouldn’t be able to break through these expectations of myself, through my dad and be able to do something that I would truly be happy with. And I think I’m very close to getting there, or have.

I think the core of everything though is something that my mom had always told me growing up. It's that if you don't ask for what you want, you get what they give you. And I always repeat that to myself like a mantra. It's also very much so in the relationship of yes, yes, yes, then no, so, a lot of social systems function on the assumption that somebody won't ask for what they want, and fortune favoring the bold, asking for what you want, it's not about right time right place, it's you intuiting the right time and you being bold enough to find the right place for something and then making that happen and that's really important, and I always think about my mom saying that. And be specific. 

I had this fear that I wouldn't be able to break through these expectations of myself, through my dad and be able to do something that I would truly be happy with. And I think I'm very close to getting there, or have. One of my big things personally is, very transparently, fraudulence, like I don't feel that I am, because I never pretended to do anything that I haven't done, but at the same time, I'm meeting all these people and even in college when I was managing Fine Print, and I was in the science department and everyone else was in the journalism department. Sometimes, I feel like I have to over justify why and how I got there because I didn't get there the traditional way. This expectation, I think I've been fighting with, I feel like I have to make up some wiz kid story, but I'm not a wiz kid, you know, I just asked for it. I worked for it. You're your own biggest critic, no one is talking about you, like chill.

I feel like I'm a big stroke kind of women, big decisions. It takes bravery to hold yourself up to really high standards, and I think that's something we practice every day. I move in broad strokes, I make these decisions and I just go for it, and not every day, but some days. 


I like small precious moments, just like this morning, taking stuff in.

That philosophy and thought can apply to everything. 

Thanks Lily ~ : ) 

Also, your waffles are >