Create & Cultivate 100: Entertainment: Taraji P. Henson

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By chasing her dreams, she went from Taraji to Academy Award-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson. 

After stellar performances in films such as “Hidden Figures” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (which earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination) and in television series like the Golden Globe-nominated drama “Empire,” it’s safe to say Henson has charmed critics and audiences alike. And it all started the minute she realized she didn’t have to ask anybody for money and could just make it for herself. 

Henson has always been unapologetic when acknowledging her success, which she achieved through sheer hard work and dedication, and she encourages every person who has their sights set on big ambitions to do the same.

Read on to find out how her faith and tenacity got her to where she is today, what it takes to build confidence, and why she believes you should never give up on yourself.

How did you make your first dollar and what did that job teach you that still applies today?

The first dollar that I had to claim taxes on—I guess it would be—would be on the stay in school program Mayor Marion Barry used to have for the kids in the summertime. So you could work as young as 14—you had to get a work permit—and it was a great program because, in the hood, your parents couldn’t afford to take you back to school shopping. So that allowed the kids to earn their own money and buy their clothes. It was such a great program, and it just made me hungry. It made me want to work and earn my own money. After that, I was like, “Oh shoot, I can earn my own money? I don’t have to ask nobody for nothing?” That just awakened the hustler in me and I have been working ever since. Hard work pays off. You know, it's that simple.

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Working in entertainment is all about taking calculated risks. What’s the most pivotal risk you’ve taken and how did it change your path? 

I say the most pivotal risk I took was moving out here. You have to take a risk to follow your dreams, and I was a mother at the time. My son was one, and that was a huge risk because I only knew my cousin and a couple of other people that were out here. But I uprooted my son and myself from everything we knew and took a chance on all my dreams. And what I learned was, you got to do that to make your dream come true. You have to take risks to make your dreams come true.

What career mistake has given you the biggest lesson?

I don’t think there's such a thing as a mistake; not unless it's conscious. I just know that your team is very important. I feel like God puts people in your life for a time, a reason, and a season. But, your team is very, very important. Period. And the right people representing you is important because they're making calls on your behalf. It’s like any relationship; you gotta keep moving on until you find the right one. 

2020 presented everybody around the globe with new, unprecedented challenges. How did you #FindNewRoads + switch gears towards your new version of success?

For me, I'm more into producing now, building my brand, finding ways to work smarter not harder, and finding more mailbox money. Because today, not being able to go on a set because they’ve slowed production down quite a bit for COVID, I'm just grateful to God that I have already built a brand for myself, and I'm just expounding on that. Who knows what the future holds with all of this COVID going on? Not saying that I'd never act again, but it made me think: what if I couldn’t ever act again? I'm noticing that I'm having to be more present on social media with everybody having to stay home and things like that. There's money to be made on social media. 

How are you making a difference and pushing your industry forward?

By continuing to make my voice heard on things such as equality and equal pay. I'm very vocal, so I just continued to live in my truth, and stay vocal about things that matter, and about staying on the right side of history. Staying vocal about being fair. Period. 

Going after what you deserve in life takes confidence and guts. Does confidence come naturally to you or did you have to learn it? What advice can you share for women on cultivating confidence and going after their dreams? 

I think it comes from my upbringing. My dad wore his heart on his sleeve. He was very confident and just being around him made me confident. When you have parents that speak and sow seeds into you and tell you that you're the greatest and you're going to do incredible things in life, you grow up believing it. If you don't have that, then you have to be that champion. And when you lack confidence, I think, a lot of times, it’s because you compare or you give other people too much credit. The death of confidence is comparison. So you have to put your blinders on, look in the mirror every day, and give yourself a pep talk. Tell yourself you are the shit every chance you get.

When you separate yourself from your job title and the bells and whistles of your business or career, who are you and what do you like to do? How have you remained true and authentic to who you are?

Well, first of all, I love to cook, and I love to play with my dog. But I love to come into my salon, and play with my doll heads, and dye hair, and learn how to cut hair, and do manicures and pedicures. I just love salons! And I'm so glad I had my own salon. I was so close to becoming a hairstylist or cosmetology student years ago, but I missed enrolling in the school by one year.

It’s easy to celebrate the wins, but how do you handle failure or when something hasn’t worked out for you?

I take it as a lesson. When it doesn't work out, that just means either something else bigger is coming or it wasn't meant for me. I don't get upset when things don't work out. I don't look at it as, “It’s not working out.” I look at it as, “My blessing is coming. This wasn't for me, and that's okay. It's not going to be the end of the world.” Usually, when something doesn't work out, that means you were thinking too small. That's usually what that means. Think bigger.

What is the #1 book you always recommend and why?

I love “Science of the Mind” by Ernest Holmes! Because if you can control your mind, baby, you’ve figured this thing out. 

If you could go back to the beginning of your career journey—with the knowledge you have now— what advice would you give yourself? 

Pick the right team, baby. Pick the team that is going to think you are a bigger star than you are. Also, you know, what I would say is, cause I've done pretty goddamn well, I would say don't change a thing. 

Fill in the blanks:

When I feel fear, I… 

Face it. 

The best career advice I always give is… 

Never give up on yourself.

I turn bad days around by… 

Staying in a place of gratitude.

Three qualities that got me to where I am today are… 

Faith, tenacity, and confidence.

The change I’d like to see in my industry is… 

More equal pay.

My perfect day begins with… 

Prayer and gratitude. Thank you, God, for waking me up.

 

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