When I decided to leave my job to peruse my writing full time, I got a lot of questions. I got even more questions when word got out that the only journalist in our family was leaving life in corporate America, at one of the most reputable news organizations in the world, to blog? Or as some would hear it: Become a full-fledged Couch Potato.
The reality was, Yes, I was leaving my job, Yes we were in the middle of a recession, No I didn't have a real plan (per se), and Yes, I'd planned on building a space for myself on the Internet; the couch just happened to come with the territory.
After reporting and writing Op-Eds for my college paper for four years, then working as a reporter and columnist at a community newspaper for a year and a half, I was offered a position at a news organization I'd dreamed of working at since before I was old enough to vote. I remember the day I got the call asking me to come in for a second interview. I thought, This is it. I'm 23 years old and I've just reached the pinnacle of my career.
I'd already won a few awards for my reporting and Op-Ed work, and I was certain the rest of my journalistic glory would come through my work at this company – the numerous Pulitzers I'd win, the handful of books I'd author, the thousands of dollars in grant money I'd receive. I'd be wildly sought after for speaking opportunities, and at some point, I'd even win a Nobel Peace Prize. What can I say, I dream in bright colors.
But it only took a few months of working at my Career Pinnacle before I was desperately ready to jump ship. I wasn't happy with the environment or the work, and I felt like my career was at a stand still – my creativity was being hindered. I started setting up meeting after meeting with every editor I ever saw walk past my desk, and any editor whose name I could find in our company-wide Intranet. Many of the higher-ups made time to sit down with me and go over my ideas – something I greatly appreciated. But in every meeting I went to I could sense that the editor had dismissed my ideas before s/he even walked in the room; giving me their time was simply a courtesy.
It wasn't until I sat down with one of our senior editors did I realize what it really meant when an experienced journalist looks in your eyes and says, “You're young and ambitious.” It's an insult of grave proportions and what it really means is, “Do your time, Kid. We'll listen to you when the baby fat falls off your cheeks.”
I knew that day that no one would ever believe in me as much as I believed in myself (well, my husband is a close second) but I still had one last pitch left in me. I turned to another editor with my proposal, my ideas, and a request for a meeting. But this time, I had something else: A staff videographer who wanted to help me film what I envisioned in my head: An online video series about Muslim women's fashions. It would be sort of like “What Not to Wear,” meets “The Rachel Zoe Project” only with a lot less Stacy, a lot less Clinton, and many fewer berets and purple lipstick.
I wanted to take the old Muslim grandma who wears green tapered sweatpants and socks with Crocs and snaz her up a little. I didn't want to put her in a leopard-print blazer with a brooch and calf-length skirt, but I did want to show her that there were other options of how she could present herself in an American society where Muslims are so negatively perceived. I also wanted to help young Muslim girls foster their individuality in a way that was cohesive with the Islamic dress code but didn't involve bubble dresses over leggings with a denim jacket.
The editor read my pitch, we talked in great detail, she made some suggestions, and I went back to the drawing board; but with every subsequent meeting, she kept asking me the same question, “Where's the expert?” Most days, I wanted to scream, ME! OH MY GOD, ME! I'M THE EXPERT!
While writing is my bread and butter, my love and eye for all things eclectic and beautiful in fashion and design is a close second.
Eventually, I made the decision to leave the company I once imagined I would work at forever to pursue my career on my own turns. So when Yasmin Moll, a PhD student studying anthropology at NYU, contacted me to take part in her documentary film that would take an introspective look at fashion through the eyes of Muslim-American women, I was excited. This was a wonderful opportunity for my blog to get more exposure, and in turn I could send a positive message to the world; unlike Charles Barkley I embrace the idea that my role in society could perpetuate good.
I'm not in the business of trying to convince anyone to do what I do, or be who I am. I'm not even in the business to try and convince people to accept who I am. But with this film, I saw an opportunity to reach the women that were teetering on the idea of wearing hijab – the ones that weren't there yet. I wanted that group to watch this documentary and hear me say, Hey, I've been where you are. I didn't know what this meant, but I learned and now I'm here. And guess what? Life's not so bad. Actually, it's kind of awesome.
Sabrina authors Slice of Lemon.
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