How A Career Setback Helped Me Reconcile My American And Iranian Identity


The rejections started out very deep, the source being the day/night difference between two countries, Iran and America. Having a love for both countries, but not being accepted in one, was extremely difficult. The rejection began by my being myself in Iran. I was rejected on a cultural, religious, and gendered level while living in Tehran, my whole identity and Western way of thinking as a Brooklyn teenager constantly questioned. I was fired from my Channel Six position as an anchor/reporter due to not following Islamic rules & regulations (e.g. wearing open-toed shoes, wearing perfume after a long Islamic HR interrogation process, etc.). The ultimate rejection of this kind was being escorted out of the building for simply being myself and leading a not-so-religious way of life.

"At 37, a sum of all the rejections, disapprovals, and failures have helped me understand who I am, open up, become vulnerable, and find the truth inside me" (Photo courtesy of shfarsi.com)

On top of the disapproval from my country and those around me, it even came from those I was most fond of: my parents. The complete disapproval from a cultural Iranian perspective for a girl to go out and explore was the hardest part. Eventually my parents accepted that I wanted to create something rather than just get a paycheck or pursue a medical profession—which was a family tradition and expectation. I was a complete black sheep with a strong mindset, blame it (or not) on growing up in Brooklyn, NY.

At this point, I was 22 and unsure of my identity, Iranian or American. Why had my parents brought me back to Iran when I was completely Brooklynized? Why did they think less of me for being a girl and not being able to make it? Things have changed now. My parents have changed, they have grown alongside my own personal growth.

After we returned to the U.S., things changed, perspectives shifted and all the rejections/ disapprovals had transformed into assets for a much bigger journey that was ahead of me while also helping me to understand my strengths. When going on a journey of self realization, one finds that within rejection, you start to re-evaluate and see what it’s trying to convey.

After deciding to start my own company, especially perfume (one that I wasn’t allowed to wear to work while being an anchor and was eventually written up for), now entrepreneur-type rejections were set in front of me. Though not a stranger to rejection, it’s never easy. Whether it’s from someone you once fell in love with, your own family members, society, or within the workforce, it’s just as difficult. Yes, there are different circumstances that can affect us in different ways but needless to say, rejection is rejection and should be taken into account in its entirety.

At this point, I had suffered from so many previous rejections that I had learned how to deal with it—to an extent. That said, I also received several rejections while trying to publish my book and get a viable agent. Rejection and disapproval have a changed meaning in my book, no longer making me question my path or feel sad and anxious; it now empowers me.

"After deciding to start my own company, especially perfume (one that I wasn’t allowed to wear to work while being an anchor and was eventually written up for), now entrepreneur-type rejections were set in front of me" (Photo courtesy of desert35.com)

At 37, a sum of all the rejections, disapprovals, and failures have helped me understand who I am, open up, become vulnerable, and find the truth inside me. A piece of advice I’d like to pass along is that your truth, openness, and constant persistence is how you can succeed in the face of rejection toward whatever goal/dream you have. Everyone has a goal/talent—it’s up to you to find it. So hustle.

Rejection is a detour towards a better direction—it’s redirection (I have that printed and framed in front of my work desk in case I forget it). For every perfume production company that didn’t believe in the Desert35 idea, for every book agent that didn’t believe in the book, that was only redirection towards a better production company and agent. On top of that, I didn’t sacrifice who I was in the face of keeping my job and trying to shift my identity. Look at where I am now.

Just like a break up, every rejection gets progressively easier. The first of any type will always be the most difficult. However, the process of recovery helps you evolve, understand you, move forward and help other people move forward. This final note is the best feeling in the world and gives meaning to everything else.

Rejection is shared by many entrepreneurs, but I’ve learned to embrace it, understand it, and allow it to motivate me. Ultimately, this process has made me into a better person, friend, business partner, entrepreneur, and it fuels me to move forward towards my passion with compassion and positivity and the openness to grow in every way.

If you have found yourself in a phase of rejection, know that it is just a redirection for better.

Rejection was truly an asset, even for someone like me who was stuck in between two completely different worlds. Rejection is good—especially in business. It’s healthy. Listen to it. Rejection is simply delay not defeat, and the key is your response to it. It has clarified my path and has helped me understand who I am, uncovered what I can and can’t do, helped me understand humility and gratitude, and has given me tough elephant skin in a world of people always trying to tear through it. Rejection has made me create the thought process of “what if?” and to always follow my curiosity and the questions that pop in my head (most of the good ones are unexpected and out of nowhere in the most unlikely situations). If needed, I am willing to ask for help and re-evaluate if necessary. Lastly, have gratitude and find the perspective that allows you to see obstacles and rejection as tools for growth.

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Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.

When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.