Welcome to Office Hours, where members of the Argent community share personal career stories and, in the process, dispense invaluable advice, rare insight, and inspiration through lived experiences.
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Noor Tagouri describes herself as “just a curious kid.” It’s a term that seems simple—familiar even to those who never hesitated to ask why as a child. However, what Tagouri’s been able to create through honoring that innate sense of curiosity and search for deeper understanding over the course of her career is remarkable. A journalist and producer, Tagouri is the founder of At Your Service, a production company she co-founded with her husband and business partner Adam Khafif, in 2019. And, within the past few months, she has launched her most personal piece of work yet: a podcast called Rep.
“This has been the most important thing I've ever done in my life,” Tagouri tells Argent. “And it started with the story of my family.” Rep is an investigative series that examines how the representation, and misrepresentation, of Muslim and Arab communities in American media has unfolded, specifically in a post 9/11 world, as well as the larger implications it’s had on politics, pop culture, and more. As Tagouri mentions, the series begins with conversations among her own family members but grows with each new weekly episode to include discussions from in and out of her own community. The stories are heartbreaking and hopeful, with Tagouri displaying her skilled and very special ability to pull listeners, of all backgrounds, in and build bridges of connectivity.
Of course, her work does raise the question: What does it take to build, and sustain, a career that’s rooted in something so deeply personal? Tagouri understands this challenge well. It’s why AYS was created. It’s why she values her superpowers of empathy, curiosity, and knowing when it’s time to rest. And even why we can hear the chirping of blue jays in the background during our latest Office Hours session. Read on to learn why and for more insights from this inspiring storyteller.
WE’D LOVE TO START BY SPEAKING ABOUT AYS. AS A JOURNALIST, WHY WERE YOU COMPELLED TO CREATE A PRODUCTION COMPANY OF YOUR OWN?
“I started AYS in response to how things were happening in a traditional sense with agencies and studios and production companies. There was too much bureaucracy and I felt myself thinking more about selling a show and the intricacies behind the scenes than the story. So I wanted to start a platform that was story-focused, story-centric.
“What I say with At Your Service is we tell stories as a form of service. I don’t care about telling a story via television or podcast. I choose to think about actual stories and then ‘I want to tell this story, what is the best medium for that? Is it a podcast? Is it a television show? Is it a talk? Is it an intimate dinner? Is it a group chat?’ Whatever it is, I focus on the story first, medium second.”
DID AYS CREATE OPPORTUNITIES THAT MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE BEEN PRESENTED?
“It absolutely created opportunities that weren’t otherwise presented because we completely shifted the model of traditional storytelling and so it is really community-oriented. The mastermind behind how we run our business is my partner, Adam [Khafif], who comes from a family that runs a wholesale bakery. So he thinks about the way he runs the business model of AYS as how to run a local bakery. Which means you are very connected to the community. You are mindful and appreciative of the people you work with and know them as human beings. And you are thoughtful with every recipe you bring to life, every story that we bring to life.”
CONGRATS ON THE LAUNCH OF REP—IT’S SUCH AN ENLIGHTENING AND MOVING LISTEN. WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS CAREER MOMENT FOR YOU?
“This is the most important work that I have ever done in my entire life. It doesn't even feel like a career move to me. This feels like a spiritual awakening and a personal transformation. All the work that I’ve done has always been deeply personal. I focus on stories that somehow I feel attached to or related to. That’s just how I've approached life in general since I was a kid, I always followed the stories of the things I could relate to. And I find myself relating to people in a way I thought I never would have been able to. That’s just the power of story.”
"That’s the only reason I am where I am today. I was just curious. I was just a curious kid."
YOU’VE MENTIONED IN THE PAST THAT EMPATHY IS A SUPERPOWER, SPECIFICALLY AS IT PERTAINS TO BEING A JOURNALIST. WHAT ROLE DO YOU THINK EMPATHY PLAYS WHEN IT COMES TO THE WORKPLACE IN GENERAL? ARE THERE OTHER UNDERRATED QUALITIES THAT YOU’VE FOUND TO BE A SUPERPOWER WITHIN A PROFESSIONAL SETTING?
“I see empathy through this lens of connectedness. And one of the things that Rep has really taught me is that we can’t truly know one another until we deeply know ourselves. So empathy, in general, no matter where you are, starts with knowing yourself and having grace for yourself. Then when you’re communicating with other people, it’s like you know that no matter how many conversations you have with this person, it’s not going to be all of them because they don’t know all of you. The superpower of it all is that there’s an understanding that ‘I don’t know all of you but I want to know you. And you don’t know me but I hope that you want to know me.’ The more we know about each other the more we are connected.
“This brings me to the second superpower I think is an underrated quality but, to me, the most important quality in any setting: curiosity. Be curious about yourself and be curious to know other people. My friends and family have always said I’m the most curious person they know and, to me, I wear that as a badge of honor. That’s the only reason I am where I am today. I was just curious. I was just a curious kid.”
WHAT’S BEEN ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES OF CREATING A PRODUCTION COMPANY OF YOUR OWN?
“I would definitely say one of the biggest challenges is that, for a while, we were funding our own work. I’ve done that for years. There were times when whatever check I’d get from speaking engagements or a brand thing would go into AYS. And one thing I’ve always said about journalism is you have to need to do this because journalism is absolutely not known for the pay. And that’s a whole conversation in itself of how we support our storytellers and our journalists. But the challenge has really been building out what this business model looks like that is community-based but also sustainable, and being able to articulate that vision to people who are so attached to a traditional model of storytelling.”
ANY ADVICE FOR FELLOW ENTREPRENEURS WHO WANT TO TAKE THEIR PROFESSIONAL OPPORTUNITIES INTO THEIR OWN HANDS?
“While building your business, while it’s one of the most difficult things ever, you should also experience joy doing it. I am obsessed with AYS. If I could do this work for the rest of my life for free, I would. That's how much I want to be doing it. I hear a lot of people be like ‘I just want to come up with a billion-dollar business idea.’ And if that’s deeply what you feel then go for it. But if your intention about your business is simply to make money because that’s how you define success, well maybe consider that. To me, Rep has been so important because it has brought me closer to myself and has brought me closer to my friends and family. And if they’re the only people in the world who hear this project, then I have won.”
AND FINALLY, WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT APPROACHING WORK THAT SPANS PARTS OF YOUR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY, AS REP DOES? HOW DO YOU SUSTAIN YOURSELF IN IT?
"I had this whole thought process today of how sometimes the answers are not for you just yet. People say to spend time in nature to lessen your anxiety and stress—I hear that all the time and I live up in the mountains. But I found myself while I was hitting certain low points—because man, this series gives me the ups and downs—on the couch inside. Now, I’ve been obsessively putting my feet in the grass and being in nature, and it is literally the disconnecting of screens that allows me to fill my cup. It’s having certain routines to go back to—journaling, swimming in our pond every morning, or doing yoga, pilates, or hiking—that I really need to cultivate my superpowers.
“The other thing is this: This shit is so hard. Every day I wake up and I don’t know how I’m going to feel but what I’ve learned is, no matter how hard it is, I no longer force myself to do anything. I trust that I’ll be capable, I will meet deadlines, and do the work I need to do. But if I wake up and I’m exhausted and have brain fog and I just can’t do it, I cancel my calls and interviews and I just do nothing because doing nothing is something my body needs tremendously. Also during the process of working on Rep over the last year, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Graves Disease, which is a thyroid condition. It’s a direct result of too much stress. It took my physical body taking a hit to realize I have to be mindful of how I spend my time and take care of myself. And the thing is the work is always going to be there, it’s always going to be waiting for you. And you are not going to be in control of timing, of divine timing, that’s not on you.
“If I‘ve learned anything from Rep it’s this: This project has a soul and life of its own, it no longer belongs to me as deeply personal as it is. A way to make balance between personal and professional work is knowing that no matter how personal the work is to you, once you put it out into the world, as much as you want to believe it belongs to you, it doesn't. Your work has a lifeforce of its own. And when you can make peace with that it becomes a lot easier and lighter to move through the work that you’re meant to do, to live in your purpose.”