Life & Business

Embracing Your Creative Potential with Zakkiyyah Najeebah

by Sabrina Smelko


Undervaluing ourselves is arguably one of the most common mistakes made by creative professionals, especially when just starting out. For many, it leads to discouraging feelings and dead-ends, all of which take their toll not only on our finances and our career prospects, but on our mental and physical health as well.

With a background in art history and black cultural studies, Zakkiyyah Najeebah knows a thing or two about investing in and embracing your creative potential. As the Art Director for Black Girl In Om (which we featured recently through its founder, Lauren Ash), a photographic artist, a documentarian, a content curator, a brand consultant and an independent film artist, Zakkiyyah believes in practicing self-purpose and manifestation through all of her endeavors. While starting with confidence wasn’t always easy, it was only by taking that leap — and embracing all she had to offer to the world — that she was able to find success and use her voice to help others and herself.

Today, Zakkiyyah is joining us to encourage intention, and inspire us to take more ownership of our lives with her essay on embracing your creative potential. –Sabrina

When I first came to the realization that I was capable of utilizing all of my creative assets, I was furthermore compelled to take the risk of employing them to my advantage — and for my overall well-being. I will admit, it’s scary to take the leap and set your heart on a creative path, but those who can testify to their success and happiness will tell you it’s worth it! What I’ve embraced about being creative is that you have control over how you use your creative energy and what you’re using it for. I’m not exactly where I’d like to be professionally (or financially), but doors have been opening up for me and opportunities have been presenting themselves left and right! It takes faith, resilience, and confidence to claim your own path, especially creative endeavors. They can be risky.

There are assumptions I’m constantly met with about taking the creative path, which ultimately seek to de-validate creative labor. This can be a struggle or a discouragement for some of us, especially if you’re working in various practices. I’ve listed a few of these assumptions that I’m sure a lot of us have had to deal with in regards to coming to terms with our creative potential. I hope my advice in response to these assumptions will encourage you to follow and completely embrace your creative potential.


It’s risky to be a full-time creative or artist.”

Yes, it can be risky to become a full-time artist or creative… It’s actually a risk of everything! You’re risking the stability of a 9-5 job or consistent income when you first begin, which can be a challenge (we all have bills that [we can’t] escape, and don’t get me started on student loans). You’re risking not knowing what’s on the other side and being met with challenges and adversity. But ultimately, if you don’t take risks for the things you want and your creative dreams, you risk not living out your fullest potential and actually being a full-time creative! Here are some questions to consider before taking that leap of faith; preparation for any decision is key:

  • What exactly are my creative intentions?
  • How will I utilize my creative energy?
  • What community or group of individuals will support me in my decision?

There are so many of us who have taken risks, and taking a risk to follow my dreams 24/7 has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself — but before I delved into anything I set forth a plan (asking myself similar questions).

My advice: Take the risk, and DO IT with strong and meaningful intentions.

You’re all over the place, you need to focus on one thing to be successful.”

I’m sure A LOT of us have heard this one before. For most people, focusing on one practice can be a strength and their key to success. For many creative individuals, focusing on one thing can be limiting and suffocating. I’ve come to the realization that there are multiple interests I have, gifts and abilities that must be practiced and used. Yes, I will admit… It can be overwhelming working on several projects at once, but for a lot of creative people this opens up so many doors for opportunities and exploration. This is why our millennial generation of creatives is so compelling to me! We live in an era in which we define our own creative practices on our own terms, and have various forms of income and engagement. We are no longer highly pressured to choose just “one career,” and like many of us creative risk-takers, I’ve never worked well in narrow environments or spaces in which I have to carve out just one practice. I work and can cultivate more of my creative energy focusing on multiple projects. My work with Black Girl In Om as an Art Director has actually informed the way I organize my other work around photography, curatorial practices, and brand creative consulting.

I believe it was Emilie Wapnick who used the term “multipotentialite” in a TED Talk last year, to evaluate the placement of those who have multiple talents and career exercises. I embrace the term “multipotentialite” because it emphasizes the spirit of contemporary creatives who are redefining and reworking what it means to activate creative labor, as well as success.

You can’t make a living.”

As we engage more with the rise and notoriety of a creative entrepreneurial culture, more of us are practicing our “multipotentialite”abilities (or superpowers, as I’d like to call them) and realizing that the opportunities are endless. I don’t just identify strictly as an “art director.” When I’m approached about what I do for a living, I can respond to someone as such: “I’m an art director for an online publication and brand, but I also curate for other artists, I work on film projects, I freelance in brand/creative consulting, and engage with photographic image making.”

I find it quite compelling and empowering now, rather than fearful, that I don’t have one “set” career path. I acknowledge my multiple creative endeavors with confidence and a sense of ownership, while recognizing that these operate as various streams of income. I also concluded that my various experiences will ultimately benefit me in the creative career market. I have mentors and individuals that I’m connected to who have shown me that it’s quite possible to be “all over the place” and still be just as focused and successful! For any creative, I always advise the presence of a mentor or distant mentor that will motivate your intentions and be an example to what you can achieve and more. Networking is also KEY! It’s essential to get out and connect with people who are doing the work you’re seeking to fit into your reality and manifestations. I’m now beginning to live out my dreams of curating simply because I have maintained a meaningful connection with someone in the field who has experience. You’d be surprised at who is willing to guide and further support your ambitions.

Remember that in the end, YOU’RE living out your life, not someone else. Be creative and take ownership of your potential. I’m still navigating my own creative journey, while also accepting the challenges I’m met with. Nonetheless, I’m extremely happy with my choices and feel confident that I’ll live out my dreams — because in a lot of ways, I already am.

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  • Ugh, so important! This really resonated with me.

    also for some reason when sharing the article, there is not featured image or thumbnail attached — this image is just too good to not go along with the article when reposting.

    • Have you tried refreshing? What browser are you using? I double-checked the article on the back-end, and it does have a featured image, so that shouldn’t be happening on your end. Let me know!

      • sadly after refreshing it’s not working on any of my devices, but I live in Mexico so perhaps that’s the reason.

        not a big deal at all just being weird about sharing it hahaha! — thanks for responding :))) love what you guys do!

  • Great article! I’d also add that understanding the value of your creative contributions is also very important. Once you value them, other people start to value them. This was a difficult lesson for me to learn but once I did everything began to fall in place.

  • How synchonicitous it would be that I, randomly, click and save Emilie Wapnick’s TED talk via Facebook link just moments before I read this article? I clearly need to hear these messages. Thank you so much Zakkiyyah for sharing your experience and insights!

  • This is just the kind of encouragement I needed this morning! Thank you very much for sharing. In the next couple of months I am transitioning from my full-time 9-5 job in insurance (znoozefest) to a more creative field. What great timing for me to read this!

  • This is so good for me to hear! I have struggled for years about having so many fields of knowledge and skill, feeling proud of them, and then feeling that other people just want to see one focus from me. Taking the next step and making sure I display curated and categorized examples of my different types of work is the only thing left to do!

  • I have been struggling with this for years. As a mid-thirties creative person, I’ve realized that not directing this creative energy is damaging to my persona—and I know I’m not alone.

    For those of us still struggling with either self-doubt, have been rejected (who hasn’t!?) or the pressure to find our “path”, even just reading this simple interview serves as a reminder that creative people need not be afraid.

    Thank you for talking about this ZAKKIYYAH NAJEEBAH! Your honesty resonated with me. HA! Maybe I will make a change from my job and dive into more of my potential, and stop comparing myself to others as much. I’m a constant work in progress.

  • Beautifully put and such a great reminder that we are in the driver’s seat when it comes to navigating our own creative path, no one else. If you want it, it’s up to you to make it happen. Thank you for the much needed reminder and kick in the pants! Fantastic advice!

  • Fabulous post….I’ve been struggling with the same “pick one discipline” issue so I’m relieved and ecstatic to hear someone finally say….”it’s quite possible to be “all over the place” and still be just as focused and successful”……
    Thank you for that validation!!!

  • Thank you, Zakkiyyah.

    I’ve been sidetracked for too long, SisterGirl.
    I often hear, after I’ve discussed my creativity and insights
    with loved ones, “Well, you know, not everyone one thinks like you. What do/did you expect…” I’ve decided to flip that downer comment into a signal for me to see myself outside of their myopia: Of course, not everyone thinks like me thank goodness! Clearly, not everyone thought or thinks like me, or Michaelangelo or Oprah or Alabama Chanin or . . . .”

    I get it.

    Peace and Power,