Shantae discusses her mother’s influence on her life, failure, and possibility.
Growing up in Chicago
I’m the oldest of 7 and lived with a single mom and grew up on the west side of Chicago. I grew up in a lower income community. My father was in my life when I was younger but then had suddenly disappeared so that really created a different kind of relationship. I was in a very perplexed state yet didn’t know how to communicate or express it. When I got to high school, I was bullied. A lot of it was because of something that happened when I was grammar school at age 10. I was raped by two guys that I knew.
After they did what they had done, I didn’t tell my mom or anybody. I could never go out because my mom wanted to shelter me from the things that were going on outside. It was tough, and I had a really tough shell and didn’t express emotions even though I had a lot of things going on. I was a kid who was smart but it was hard to express that in high school. I grew up very curious about the world. I learned by asking questions and doing research. It was because of that curiosity that I did UIC Upward Bound; so I got to go downtown.
When I reached an age where I was able to get a job permit, I got my first job as a tutor at an elementary school, and that changed my life. I was very independent. I started seeking more opportunities. At my high school, there really wasn't anyone like me and what I mean by that is that I was this weird kid who didn't need to fit in. I grew up with gang bangers and drug dealers as some of my best friends, but I never had a desire to be like them. I was hungry because I made a choice that I wasn't going to be a product of my environment. Another thing that happened to me was overhearing my mom talking on the phone with a friend about how she had breast cancer. She talked about how she was going to let God take care of her, but the thing is that she never shared this with any of us throughout the entire process.
Whatever moment I had was because of her. Her strength. Her presence. Everything. She was a single mother with breast cancer. She had just found out. She was still working her job, traveling, and taking care of her kids. So I thought to myself, "Who the hell am I to not keep my grades up?!" Her strength really supported me to get myself together.
As a reformed perfectionist and hoarder of things, I realized that you really can't do much with your life. You're stuffy. You're heavy. You ain't free. When I think about failure, I think of it as being minimalist and taking chances. It's not looking at life as a way to get through it but using life as a way to get up. Failure should be seen as so sexy that it's positive. In order for you to be able to push forward and say that you succeeded, you've got to fall.
Les Brown once said something like, "If you feel like you're falling down, make sure that you land on your back because if you can look up then you can get up." See failure as an opportunity to really flourish.
2016 was my year. I left my full-time job of 4 years. I left my career world of 8 years and decided to take the leap of faith. I let go of the idea of living paycheck to paycheck and I tried something new. It was really big because I started getting into myself and seeing that I was worth doing things. I was able to fall and fail. Being rejected - I know people who celebrate it. I'm all about saying, "Yo! Celebrate your failures." When you share your stories, you can ignite someone else. They're supposed to. Failures are stories that are supposed to be told.
I was reading a book called The Art of Possibility, and it was really about understanding that in order to think things are possible, you have to know failure. You have to know that when things don't work out, you have to ask questions like, "Why didn't it work out?"
The biggest part is forgiving yourself for failing. Forgiveness is really a part of love. There's a relationship that you have with yourself. It's like when a baby falls. When a kid falls, they say that as a parent you should get excited with them because they'll see your expression. When they see that you're okay they'll get up and try again. In the work that I do, I always think about children - especially children between one and four years old. Their curiosity, their development, their growth is so amazing. They like touching everything and falling off things, but that's a part of the dance of life. They haven't felt restricted yet, and that is an example of anything is possible.
The other really dope thing about failing and even the idea of failing forward is seeing life open. There are no obstacles. There are only opportunities. It's an open field, and you just take advantage of everything. That's what I think of when I think about failing forward. That's why I push people to celebrate themselves. You're still here! What's your legacy though? Are you going to be the one that they're talking about or no?