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Zinnia's Story

Hey hi hello and welcome! I wanted to kick off this ’stories’ series by sharing my own story with you all.

First and foremost, who am i?

My name is Zinnia Dogra, and I am the creative creature behind @storiesbyz_. I’m from a beautiful country called New Zealand, and I currently reside in Auckland. I have lived here my entire life and will always consider it my home. I’m an Architectural Graduate and consider myself a storyteller who communicates through video, art, dance, design, writing - anything and everything.

I studied Architecture at the University of Auckland and graduated with my masters degree in Architecture in 2019. For as long as I can remember, I always had an interest in home renovation shows (massive fan of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), rearranging my room every 3 minutes and playing the Sims purely to build the houses (and then abandon my sims, sorry guys). I’ve also always been super creative and taught myself how to edit videos when I was 10 and Adobe Photoshop when I was 14/15. On the flip side of this, I was also freakishly good at algebra/calculus to the point where I found it enjoyable (lmao don’t come for me) so in theory, Architecture *seemed* to be the perfect direction for me.

2020 has been a super tough year for everyone, so how are you doing? Did you have any highlights despite the chaos?

Human’s are social beings and physical interaction is essential for our survival. I feel as though 2020 really tested my limits in all departments of my life and even though I’m proud of myself for soldiering through it, I still feel like I haven’t fully healed. Like many, I thought 2020 was going to be my year. For the longest time, I’ve been battling severe loneliness (to the point where I could be in a room full of people and feel as though I’m completely alone) and all I wanted was to escape Auckland because it was making me feel like life was nothing but emptiness. I felt genuinely disconnected from everyone, felt as though I had no true friends and only spent my time with a couple of people outside of my household and workplace. As a certified stage 5 social butterfly and extroverted fairy, (as in someone who thrives off social interaction) these two factors coupled together really was becoming a recipe for disaster.

In 2019 i was presented with the opportunity to live my dream and work in New York City as an Architect. I accepted immediately, knowing that this was the ‘escape’ and fresh start I needed. Apart from the fact i was leaving behind a few things that were super special to me and my life at the time, i was ready for the move and it was the first time in a while i felt like i had a purpose and direction. I arrived in New York with a newly ignited fire to live my best life… and then we fast forward to 2020.

2020 started off FANTASTIC. I had been living in New York for 3 months, i had met my now best friend and I was really making that damn city my own. However, there was a giant pit in my stomach because i knew deep down i was avoiding a painful reality, and that was the fact that i really hated Architecture. During my final years of uni, i started to feel resentment, but i ignored it thinking it was just burnout and that after a decent break i would be recharged and ready to roll. January 2020, i realised this was not the case. Having to admit this to myself literally tore me to shreds because i’m a massive perfectionist and knowing that i may have gotten my career path wrong killed me (especially because i spent 5 years studying this profession, and even had a Masters degree in it). Although at the time i felt like a total failure of a human, i’m so thankful I admitted my true feelings to myself because it really lifted a significant weight off my shoulders and it allowed me to start exploring what i really wanted to do in life.

So that seemed like a somewhat happy ending, so how was this 2020 related you ask? Well this was the beginning of the shit show for me. The calm before the storm.

March 2020, what a time to be alive. March marked the last month valid on my US visa, the month i had planned and booked a solo trip around the American West Coast, and the month the entire world flipped on its head. March 13th will go down as the day in history that ol’ mate Corona came to cause a damn SCENE, and was the last day many office plants saw their human caregivers. What did i do on March 13th? i boarded a plane to Canada to see my best friend. 3 days later, i was panic flying back to New York to pack up my ENTIRE life and move home before my home country sealed its borders.

So how am i doing? I’m coping. I feel as though, like other people, 2020 threw so much chaos into my life, but it also allowed me to slow down from my fast paced life to start something i’ve always wanted to do.

What inspired you to start your own business/art page? The short and easy answer may be “the pandemic” but I see that more of an ideal time to start rather than a reason. Really think deep down, if this pandemic didn’t exist, would you still have started a business? Has starting a business always been your dream and goal?

The birth of @storiesbyz_ was a long time coming. Back in 2017, I started this page as a place to share my travel photography, with the goal of entering the travel blogging community/industry. Photography and video producing has always been one of my true passions and having the opportunity to travel abroad for my degree gave me the a chance to capture content that i was really excited about. Trying to balance that venture, (not yet truly educated on marketing and blogging in general) with an Architecture degree? Well you guessed it, i couldn’t. Eventually the page fizzled out and was left to collect dust until late 2019.

As mentioned above, during my time in New York i really started to question my career path, but did know that i wanted to do something that allowed me to produce content and potentially be self employed. I decided to relaunch my website and transform it into an online shop to sell my photography prints, and i spent a large portion of my spare time working on it late into the night (i even purchased new camera equipment and booked a solo trip around the west coast to create content for my new (side) venture.) While i was developing the bones of my new page, i was interested in making it a general design page as i wanted to not limit myself to just one industry and showcase everything i can do.

This is when illustration came into the picture. I had been wanting to up-skill and broaden my tool kit as a designer so i decided to start training myself to become more confident using Adobe illustrator. As someone who uses photoshop for EVERYTHING (even to type out essays sometimes lol) it was challenging, but i used illustration as a way to educate myself. It wasn’t until end of March/early April during my 14 day quarantine upon arriving back in New Zealand (followed by a strict nationwide lockdown until May) that i really started getting into illustrations. I re-branded my page, and haven’t looked back since.

So would stories by z exist if it weren’t for the pandemic? I truly think it would, but maybe not in the form that it’s in today. My blog has existed for a very long time (around 2015ish) but i could never tap into something that i was truly passionate about or felt genuine writing about. I’m the type of person that thrives off being in a position of leadership and being the director of bringing my visions to come to life, so even if stories by z didn’t exist, i do think i would have eventually started my own business.

Do you run your small business full time or do you have a full time job?

Stories by Z was ultimately supposed to be a side hustle for me (all about that passive income) as my goal was to earn as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time so i could move back to New York. Of course the pandemic really messed up that plan and it also made it incredibly difficult to find employment. I interviewed with many companies, often making it to the final stages and then being let go and i started to become very drained and lose confidence in my abilities. I had to keep telling myself that it wasn’t me, it’s the pandemic but there’s only so many rejection emails one can receive in a day before it really starts to get to you. Eventually i decided that if no one wants to employ me, i’m going to employ myself. So now, running this page is my full time job!

After the quarantine period, there has been an obvious drop in the number of active accounts as people return to their jobs/find employment/resume everyday life. So when the world finally returns to normal, do you see yourself continuing on with your page?

I definitely will keep this page going for as long as i can because it’s not just work for me, it’s also a massive community of people that i consider close friends now and i love being able to share my work alongside them everyday. Realistically speaking though, i do see myself demoting this back to a side hustle at some point as even though i love self employment, i do want a salary job in the creative industry for stability. My dream job would be working for VEVO or equivalent as a video editor/producer or a content producer for brands like & Other Stories and i’m using my stories by z era to build a portfolio of work i’m proud of so i can grow and work my way up into those industries.

What is your creative process?

It varies. When it comes to my posts, sometimes its just as simple as stumbling across an image that really inspires me, but a lot of the time, i come up with my concept/caption and then work backwards to create a piece that depicts that.

What’s something that no one knows about you? (If you’re comfortable sharing)

Here are 2 things since i am an ~over sharer~

1. I have Synesthesia which essentially means a lot of my senses cross over. When i hear music that triggers my synesthesia, i have to channel it through movement/dance to feel satisfied, I see the days of the week and numbers as colours and sometimes i can taste things just by thinking about it. I’m also an empath and have the ability to feel someone else’s emotions even when they’re not mine to feel. So if someone close to me is sad or stressed, i’ll become sad or stressed. If everyone around me is on a vibe, i’ll match it. I’m essentially a sponge with a lot of feels all the time lol.

2. I think i may have mentioned this on my story at some point but I actually spent a large chunk of my life wanting to be a spy/secret agent. People always laugh when tell them this but I genuinely loved the idea of investigating cases, problem solving and doing good for the world but in ✨secret✨ and of course all the gadgets were super enticing - I love tech. That dream was crushed one day during a careers class in my first year of high school. We had to fill out these forms about what we were interested in pursuing as a career, and I asked my teacher about what pathway I would need to take to become a spy. He laughed at me, announced it to the entire class who also laughed at me and then asked me if I were serious (which I was lol). He then -now seriously- discussed with me that I would probably need to start with becoming a police officer and working my way up to detective etc - all which makes perfect sense, but I couldn’t see myself doing.

Outside of art, what are your hobbies?

I’m a wildly active person so i really enjoy hiking, going to the gym and being in the outdoors in general. I am also a dancer - i do Lyrical/Contemporary/Jazz/Hip Hop and prior to COVID it was a massive part of my life. I really can’t wait till i’m back in New York dancing again (Auckland’s dance scene just isn’t it for me anymore).

What's your favourite story about yourself?

I would say my favourite story is about the time (as mentioned earlier) I decided to fly to Canada on March 13th 2020 which we all know as the unofficial global doomsday. I was only supposed to be gone for 4 days but basically every minute i was there i watched the world absolutely deteriorate before my eyes. Within the space of a week i had to cancel my West Coast trip (well, they cancelled on me lol RIP), experience 2 border closure announcements (1. Canada closing its borders to the states while i was in Canada, 2. New Zealand sealing it’s borders to the world while i was in the states), change my flights 3 times (was on hold with Air New Zealand for about 5 hours trying to get home asap) pack up my entire life in NYC in a day and move home (5 planes later) and then arrive home to a break up and 8 weeks of level 4 lockdown. I’m fine. It’s fine. Biggest character building moment of my life lmfao.

What’s something that 2020 has taught you?

There’s the general lesson that you can never take your life for granted as COVID has shown how quickly every day norms can be flipped on its head, but 2020 has also taught me a lot about myself, my personal boundaries and allowed me to realise what i actually consider important to me.

What are you manifesting for 2021?

The end of the pandemic so i can finally move back to America to be with the people i care about and really kick start my career again, as well as success in all aspects of my life! I'm very thankful to be from a country that has handled COVID in a way that allows us to live life as normal, but I'm also aware that I cannot heal in the place that hurt me, so I feel some what trapped and can't wait to feel free.

If you’ve made it this far, i’m so thankful for you for following me on this new journey. Stay tuned for the rest of the stories series coming to you weekly this year!

You can find Zinnia at: Instagram: @storiesbyz_ Etsy: @storiesbyz Tiktok: @storiesbyz Website: you're on it!

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