We had the good fortune of connecting with Taj Shareef and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Taj, how do you think about risk?
I am a planner. I like to think about everything I can at least 4 steps ahead and yet somehow plans still get derailed. I think I’m not the adventurous type, but I understand (or have learned) the value of calculated risk. To sharpen the tools as much as possible, and to learn some fluidity because there just isn’t a truly linear path to be found anywhere. In context, working a 9-5 isn’t less risky than working in creative. It’s a familiar model, but companies go through mergers and downsize and economies tumble. We’re all several decisions and multiple twists of fate from poverty and ruin. This sounds depressing, but embracing the randomness of things makes it easier to embrace the thing you want to do, because you only stand to gain when making decisions from a place of alignment. Will you get famous for writing a book, script, song? Probably not, but if it was fun and you feel the feel the satisfaction of it, you won’t lose that. This is hard to accept as an overly planning, squirrly, friendly stick in the mud, but it’s valuable.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve always been pretty introverted, and despite having learned how to engage with people I tend to overthink every moment of every day. I often think about regrets and things not said and the funny random thought commercials that play in my head every day which find their way into my work. A lot of what I write has to do with unearthing feelings and words left unsaid, or in some cases giving those feelings forms and bodies. I like to think the central theme to my work is who are your feelings, and what do they think of you? You give them bodies, voices, personalities and then they talk back to you so if you’re a narcissist you have a sentient mirror snappily dressed talking to you about your insecurity in your appearance. Professionally, I just clumsily bang my way through meeting people and working with friends or via random solicitation. My work with production teams SLAY TV and BIGFOOTERS have been huge influences on my growth and I can’t thank my folks there enough! I’ve also had the benefit of being supported by Black women in the industry the entire way. Again I shout the praises of Kristen Carter for getting me many of my first gigs and for the mentorship I received from Felicia Pride when I first found my way to LA and introducing the ideas of setting boundaries and creating a path that suits me. The path in this industry is difficult and continues to be, but establishing real bonds with people who I can love, and who love me back, and who love the work are the keys to sustaining my wellness and ambition. I want people to know that there are many ways in which up and comers should honor experiences and be willing to be challenged to grow, but to realize that sometimes your internal guidance knows when a path, a job, an opportunity, a boss just isn’t right and it’s okay to say No Thanks and walk away. There is no power that can deny your from your goals.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Me and my bestfriend aren’t especially mixy when it comes to visiting tourist locations so just to say it happened we’d go to Venice Beach and get drinks, but would likely have the best time eating at Krua Thai in NoHo because it’s delicious and opened late, followed up with donuts from USA Donuts in Noho because the people that run it are super sweet and there donuts and croissant sandwiches have comforted me many nights. My personal favorite place in LA is WGA Library, obviously because reading scripts is a delight, but also because the staff is amazing — Shout out to Javier at the library! My best friend would hate reading scripts all day, but to make up for it we’d likely try to hit Leimert Park because despite gentrification pushing out the Black residents, it’s still a place full of familiar warmth with other Black folks.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I am fortunate because of my community of support. I feel that I have always had support for all of my endeavors from my father and family. I’ve also had an extended support system via my cultivated community. My greatest opportunities have come from genuince connections with people and sitting and talking with them and forming a bond in something nebulous and fulfilling. I mentioned my father Saleem and step mother Racquel have always supported me. My sister Sabreen has always supported me and her childhood best friend and my surrogate sister Kristen Carter took me under her wing and gave me a number of opportunities to learn and sharpen my toolkit. I’ve also been able to work with peers who’ve challenged me and grown with me. Darnell Lamont Walker, Tonja Renee Stidhum, Rowin Khan are my own personal think tank of love and creativity. Sean Torrington and Terry Torrington of SLAY TV allow me n their space to collaborate in such new and fun ways. Brandon Dean Johnson and the team of BIGFOOTERS LLC are the model for a well running, communicative, warm environment. But I owe so much of my affirmation and the reason I even think to communicate to my best friend Lauren Walker, she has a way of warming people and making them feel safe enough to come out of hiding. I didn’t speak much, but she saw a chilly high school freshman and we found each other through dumb jokes that have lasted 20+ years.