The career I have was birthed out of rejection. Rejection—and all its pain—has served as a compass to my current career path. A career where I am now making offers, paying invoices, and creating positions for talented Black women. This is not the height of where I intend to go but it is eons from where I started.
About six years ago, I was emotionally broken and wallowing in misery as I asked family for money. Swallowing my pride was hard. Watching my income dwindle as my bills grew made it go down smoother. Three months after an unexpected job loss my savings were gone. By month four I was borrowing money from a 401k to pay rent and maintain the expenses of raising a child as a single parent. Nearly the six month mark, I was figuring out how long I could survive before my grown then 35-year-old self had to move back home with mom.
Life felt cruel. If I’m honest the cruelty stemmed from a deep rooted belief that this wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I did the “right things.” I followed the preverbal equation for “success.” One master’s degree plus strong professional experience minus children before marriage, multiplied by being crowned “brilliant” by peers was supposed to equal “success.” I must have forgotten to carry the one because things did not add up. I was “brilliant” and broke.” Educated and unemployed. I had two degrees and an EBT card. I interviewed for jobs I was overqualified for out of desperation. The wait between interviews left me swimming in fear. I was devastated every time I received an email stating the company was going with a different candidate. The blade of rejection doesn’t dull no matter how many times it pierces you.
I don’t remember which day of the week it was (since everyday feels the same when you’re jobless) but on one particular afternoon rejection redirected me back to me. Instead of my usual routine of tears and fears I decided to write about this season. After the first essay, I remembered my dreams. I became so busy building somebody else’s dreams that I forgot I had my own. I helped grow companies while my own plans of being a writer died. I spend the next few weeks breathing life back into them. I continued to look for work so I could survive but I maintained my writing so I could live. I created a blog and wrote daily. 2015 was well beyond the golden ages of blogging but an editor from the Huffington Post found my work and invited me to write for them. At the time it was unpaid so I reposted work from my blog that I used to stay emotionally grounded.
I must have forgotten to carry the one because things did not add up. I was “brilliant” and broke.” Educated and unemployed. I had two degrees and an EBT card.
I wrote a few solid pieces and started pitching to outlets that paid. Sometimes I was successful…hello multiple bylines in The New York Times. Other times I was completely ignored by editors…hello rejection my old friend. This time, when rejection presented itself I knew how to respond. I knew rejection was a compass redirecting me back to dreams and gifts I wasn’t using.
I spent about four years freelancing and the most consist thing about my journey was rejection. The constant snubs inescapable in the life of a freelancer did not deter me—it just shifted my focus back to the goal of writing a book. I worked on my book proposal and studied the publishing industry. I landed an agent and obtained a deal with the only publisher I wanted for the exact figure I demanded. I was now financially comfortable, but I wanted more.
I figured out a plan to create opportunities for myself and others. I started applying for fellowships but after being rejected initially, I asked one of the committees for feedback. I incorporated the insight and revised my new proposal. I ended up receiving a fellowship that awarded me about six times the amount of the one I didn’t get. The money I was awarded allowed me to hire a team.
While my team of researchers gather information for the docuseries I’m developing, I spend afternoons teaching remotely at the University of Toronto and writing my book. Some workdays consist of me researching by watching documentaries I love and reading material I adore. This is great but I wanted to help other creatives in a larger capacity. I used my connections to set up a meeting with esteemed funders and Black journalists looking for revenue for their projects. Creating a career path that brings me joy is dope, but being able to assist other Black creatives is a dream. Rejection directed me through a nightmare so I could wake up and live my dream.
Shanita Hubbard (@msshanitarenee) is the author of the upcoming book miseducation: A Woman’s Guide to Hip-Hop.