How I Made It

Huda Hassan, Writer and Activist

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Huda Hassan headshot

Huda Hassan; Toronto; @_hudahassan

Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?

I’m a writer, doctoral student and an activist. My work intervenes gender and race.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I’m technically still a student! I’m a PhD student at the Women and Gender Studies Institute at University of Toronto. I did my undergrad at University of Toronto, where I studied philosophy, African studies, and political science. I also completed a Masters in Humanities at York University.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

My first paying gig was for Pound Magazine as a staff writer. My first editor, Rodrigo Bascunan, believed in me and helped me begin my journey in journalism.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

In 2014, while mourning a family member, I started a blog called “My Birds Nest” (a nickname given to me by cousin, Masud, who died earlier that year). A few friends of mine passed one of my posts to a few editors. Keise Laymon, who was an editor at Gawker at the time, re-published one of my posts on Gawker as part of an essay series. That process led to conversations with a few other editors, and I have been freelance writing ever since.

Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?

I still periodically have these moments, because I still periodically am ridden with doubt. Working in “non-traditional” fields—particularly as a daughter of Black, Muslim immigrants—feels shaky and tricky sometimes. I don’t come from a privileged family that I can turn to for economic support. I only have myself. Once in a while that feeling is so overwhelming I might momentarily question if it’s all worth it. I continuously try to challenge this by questioning what my purpose is in this short life.

The first time I felt like this would all be OK was the first moment I was paid for work that I was happy doing.

What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

I try not to think of shortcomings as failures. I think all of our failures are necessary to arrive where we are going. Failures are moments I always try to embrace and use as a moment to question: What do I need to learn from this?

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

I always try to advise folks that we should locate our passion and purpose. This becomes complicated in the context of economics, but if you can locate strategic ways to do what you love and pay your bills, you are “living.” Do you find purpose in what you are doing? If so, chase it relentlessly and unapologetically.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

To work for free in swap of exposure. Your work is valuable. Always charge for them!

Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?

I continuously face barriers in my fields, as a journalist and academic, because I am a Black Muslim woman. I refute and challenge these barriers daily by merely existing in these fields unapologetically.

Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?

I technically juggle various fields in order to maintain a decent wage to survive. Merely working as a writer, or as an academic, would not be enough to pay my bills. Luckily I’ve located various fields of work that speak to each other in many ways, and allow me to survive intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and economically.

What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?

The assumption that we’re lazy.

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