What Matters to Rachel Gogel

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Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Rachel Gogel is a Parisian creative director, graphic designer, and educator based in San Francisco. She runs her own small consultancy as an independent creative culture officer and has led major brand initiatives at GQ, The New York Times, Meta, Godfrey Dadich, Departures, Airbnb, and Dropbox.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

Honestly, it’s hard for me to identify the thing. But here’s what I know makes me genuinely happy: Hanging out with my favorite people (my family, friends, and wife), getting loafed by my cat early in the morning, going to the movies, taking pictures of beautiful trees and cool doors, writing handwritten holiday cards every year, museum hopping in every city I visit, crossing the finish line of a half marathon race, discovering a new song that instantly makes me visualize dancing to it, sitting next to my partner while she’s reading, being in the classroom with my students, seeing those I care about succeed, browsing the art section of bookstores, designing thriving teams and their respective cultures, supporting women-led causes, and being an advocate for other queer creatives in whatever way I can.

Oh, and taking long baths.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

When I was about seven years old, I had the privilege of going to a sleepaway summer camp in Freedom, Maine (yes, a real town). My parents heard about it through my cousins who lived in the United States and apparently loved being campers there. This special place celebrated all artistic disciplines. I remember experimenting with everything from ceramic wheel throwing to stained glass to wood burning. I try to prioritize learning new skills when I can, and I believe that this experience, which lasted until my early teens, ingrained in me the more playful side of design (and all creative pursuits) that we all hope to never lose sight of.

Making art was a daily ritual for me, whether at camp or back home in France; my mom still has most of what I made over the years tucked away somewhere. While I realize most small kids ‘make art,’ it was different for me; it quickly became an extracurricular activity, and later on, a craft that I sought to refine. In high school, I became drawn to collage and décollage, which probably originated from being an active member of the yearbook committee (when the Photoshop icon was a feather) and fangirling over Jacques Villeglé’s work. It was around that time that I started to really learn about art — and its complex history — and pushed myself more. For example, I never saw myself as someone who could draw well, but when I was sixteen, I got obsessed with drawing portraits inspired by National Geographic travel photography (specifically Steve McCurry). Looking back, I wouldn’t have imagined that body of work making up most of my college admissions portfolio…but here we are.

I guess I believe that “being creative” implies taking risks.

What is your biggest regret?

I can’t even remember the last time I used the word “regret” in a sentence. I know I’m human and have made (and will continue to make) mistakes, but I try not to dwell too much on the past and prefer to look forward. I believe that life is filled with learning and reflection opportunities.

That said, if I had to pick one: It would probably be not acknowledging and accepting my own bisexuality earlier in life, or not getting more serious about pursuing basketball when I first got to college (I played competitively in middle school and high school and was my team’s starting point guard).

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

I actually think about this more often than maybe most. All in all, I believe that real heartbreak never really leaves you. In fact, it becomes part of you, forever emblazoned on your memory. For example, music and smells will trigger intense recollections from years past for me.

In my experience, time doesn’t heal all wounds. Ultimately, it’s been on me to find ways to achieve healing and transformation during the time that passes after experiencing a wound or trauma. It can be a really vulnerable process. For one, I’m a big hugger (physical touch is one of my love languages). I’ve also tried talking about what happened openly, asking for help in moments of need (even if sometimes you don’t really know what to ask for), calling a friend or family member, being immersed in nature, hanging out quietly with my wife and cat, seeking distractions, and just simply admitting that I’m not okay and need space.

At the age of 36, I’ve been heartbroken many times already. I’m not just talking about romantic relationship breakups, which have no doubt left their mark on me — and probably felt like the end of the world at the time.

I lost my grandparents at a young age, an aunt tragically, and my mother-in-law way too soon, and then there are my family’s close friends and childhood pets. Beyond grief caused by death, like most, I’ve mourned past relationships, endured toxic friendships, been betrayed and rejected, lamented the loss of a job that was eliminated before I could even join, fallen for the wrong people, experienced professional disappointment, navigated a hard time when I came out to my family, and still struggle with chronic health issues (as I miss ‘the old me.’)

In the back of my mind, I’ve always known that there are worse kinds of heartbreak though.

In recent years, I’ve watched my wife not only take care of her mom while on hospice care caused by late-stage ovarian cancer, but also navigate life after processing her mom’s death. I’m just glad I met her when I did but will also be sad that my parents never had the chance to meet her. And this year, I lost two friends closer to my age quite suddenly. Those events have really affected me and I’m trying to honor them both in ways that I think they’d appreciate.

I think I’m just increasingly and acutely aware of the time we have with those we love and I have many out of body moments where I tell myself to engage deeply with the present. I know I’m incredibly lucky that I have yet to lose my wife or anyone from my nuclear family, and for that I am grateful because I can’t imagine how my heart will take it.

Life will attempt to break you down sometimes; nothing and no one can completely protect you from this reality. So I just make sure to fill my time with people and things that make me happy as often as humanly possible.

What makes you cry?

Serious answers:

  • Scrolling through screenshots of text messages with my deceased mother-in-law
  • Losing someone close to me too soon
  • Hearing great news after someone you love gets out of surgery
  • My own fear of dying (rarely, but it has happened)
  • Thinking about the fate of this planet, especially when I spend time with my niece and nephew
  • Feeling hopeless on how to address real injustice in this world
  • Watching that MILCK video from the 2017 Women’s March
  • When I found out my childhood dog died
  • Hormones. Enough said.
  • When my chronic pain is really bad non-stop for multiple days in a row and I’m tired of fighting it

Slightly less serious answers:

  • Watching most movies (especially romantic comedies from the ‘90s and early 2000s)
  • When Marissa Cooper died in the hit drama “The OC”
  • Observing two older people in love
  • Seeing a senior animal struggle
  • Discovering cute Instagram videos (usually involving pets and their owners)
  • Listening to songs that are associated to very vivid memories
  • Watching two people get married; I always cry when they walk down the aisle, no matter how well I know them personally
  • When I eat really really spicy foods
  • When Obama was elected
  • When Trump was elected

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

It depends if it’s a shared experience or a solitary one. Sometimes it’s easier for me to feel pride and joy for longer when others are there to reminisce and/or discuss the initiative with.

That being said, ever since starting my own independent practice in October 2020, I tend to truly sit with my accomplishments and am able to find ways to make that joy last longer. I wonder if it’s because I’m my own advocate and PR person, constantly looking for ways to highlight these milestones and try to talk about them either in person or through all digital extensions of my brand. Sometimes I even find myself realizing things after the fact about a choice that I made. Since I’m more intentional about how I spend my time as a consultant, I do think it forces me to appreciate these life moments in new ways so that they’re not as fleeting. Weekly reflection about my wins is something I strive for.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I really hope that my spirit, consciousness, or energy lives on after I’m gone. I think we all wish to never be forgotten, to leave a legacy, or to be remembered by at least one person.

Maybe instead of my soul going to a ‘higher spiritual plane,’ it can stay on Earth and graciously haunt the people I care about the most. While I’m alive, I want to make a positive impact that can hopefully last (and influence others) posthumously.

What do you hate most about yourself?

“Hate” is such a strong word. I don’t think I hate anything about myself… Especially now as an adult. I have a lot of self-love and compassion.

There were definitely certain parts of myself as a younger kid or teenager that I was more self-conscious about, namely, the fact that I have a lazy eye in my right eye. It used to bother me more because I’d be talking to someone and they would think I was talking to someone behind them and they’d turn their head. Eventually, I just got used to it.

What do you love most about yourself?

My drive and strong sense of self.

And after experiencing a series of health issues since 2020 (not COVID-related), I love how resilient my mind and body have become. We tend to take them for granted if nothing ‘bad’ happens to us; only when something serious happens do we realize how fragile they are. Despite moments of despair, I have advocated for myself through the healthcare system and chose to stay hopeful. And I’m pleased to share that while the healing journey has been non-linear, progress has been made.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

I know this isn’t a “meal” per se, but I am addicted to chai and sometimes only have that for breakfast. Does that count?

But also, I’m a big fan of sour candy and anything that’s really spicy.