Overdraft: When a Tarot Designer Lost Her Safety Net

Illustration of Tina Gong, founder of Labyrinthos
In this series, I speak with people who know what desperate feels like. While now blooming into success, these founders share with me their deeply personal financial struggles and lessons learned on their way back to black.

Ting Gong, against her mother’s wishes, turned her back on the safe path to instead pursue her dream. The college science major quietly switched into the arts, eventually working toward a career in graphic design. During a rough time in her life, Tina began designing tarot cards as an escape, and when she uploaded her designs to Tumblr, the response was overwhelming.

In 2016, Tina drained her savings to fund the first print run of her tarot deck under the brand Labyrinthos.

What started as a side project is now Tina’s primary source of income. From her home studio, she creates the Labyrinthos virtual world, designing and selling physical tarot decks and accompanying mobile learning apps and online resources. Her ultimate success, though, sometimes came at great personal cost.

In Tina’s words:

I was living in a studio apartment on my own, but the place was owned by a relative. There were so many strings attached—I should have known better—that it quickly became a huge burden to my mental health. I had move out, and fast.

I then ended up in a situation with a roommate that was less than ideal. There were many things that were difficult, but by far, the worst thing was when the landlord told me that my roommate was not allowed to sublet, and I technically wasn’t allowed to be there. About a month after I moved in, I was again, prepping—in the worst case—to move out again, throwing all my beloved books and other heavy items in self storage.

The one thing that kept me going was working on these tarot cards.

[At the same time] I had a big fight with my mom. I think when you have a supportive family, you know that if you fail, you kind of have somewhere to go back. So, when I cut off contact with my mom, I knew that I no longer had a place that I could go back to. I had shelter, but I didn’t feel like I had a home. And, as someone who places heavy value in a feeling of security and stability, it was probably the most uncomfortable situation to know that I may be kicked out at any moment.

An advertisement to read Overdraft: a series of stories about deeply personal stories of financial struggle.

The whole time I was there, the one thing that kept me going was working on these tarot cards. Everything around me was pretty shitty, but I think working on them actually helped distract myself from how scared I felt. I spent a lot of money upfront for the manufacturing of the decks, more than I had ever spent on anything. And I dipped into my emergency savings to do so. The cards helped me frame this situation in the bigger picture—that this was temporary, and that all stories have moments of struggle, and we make it past them, and become stronger for them.

Thankfully, I was never kicked out.

 

Illustration by Germán González


Hear from another tarot designer who hit rock bottom before art helped her find her identity. Courtney Alexander created Dust II Onyx, a Tarot deck designed for a black audience that was an instant hit. But the emotional toll of success almost destroyed her. Was it worth it?