Sis, I've got a story to tell. There were thousands of dollars on the table, rent to pay, and lots of phone calls and texts in between. I mean I thought I'd found a perfect match: A mature, seasoned businessperson, a high achiever, and someone who seemingly had a good reputation. This was a win-win situation where we'd talk for hours, share stories, encourage one another, and nurture each other's interests. It was bliss, such a comforting place to finally be after dealing with the financial and emotional challenges of the pandemic.
Then suddenly the calls stopped. I could no longer reach this person by email, phone, or text, yet they were "following" my IG stories, liking LinkedIn posts, or actively tweeting. They weren't deceased or busy. Think I'm talking some raggedy fool I met on a dating site? Nah. I have a whole fiance, sis. This is a case of professional ghosting.
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I was paid dust by someone I respected and had grown to admire and depend on. I had no reason to believe there was an issue. We'd worked together previously on multiple projects, all of which were completed and paid for.
Actually, this person commended me multiple times on my great work ethic, and offered several projects to me before the ghosting even happened. After a few weeks of silence, I even sent emails inquiring about their welfare—as I was truly concerned. The messages went unanswered. Voicemails. DMs. Nothing. So you can only imagine my utter surprise and disgust when I saw them all up in my social notifications a week or so later.
Listen, I'm not the only one who has dealt with this type of B.S. A recent study found that 77 percent of job seekers have been ghosted by a prospective employer during the pandemic, and 10 percent have reported that they've even been ghosted after a job offer was given.
'Professional Ghosting' Is Indeed a Thing
One subcontractor wrote about her experience early last year and described how it "played havoc with my financial planning, my emotional being, and workflow planning." Another leadership coach talked about how it negatively impacts professional credibility of the person doing the ghosting, adding that it's a "sign of someone who avoids conflict, can't communicate honestly, and perhaps doesn't understand how disrespectful it is." Another freelancer lamented about "the gut-wrenching uncertainty and maddening second-guessing" that's involved.
On the flip side, job candidates have been found to ghost employers and recruiters as well, either due to just not being interested anymore or not knowing how to properly communicate that they've decided to take another offer. This has even hit "crisis" levels during the pandemic, with candidates just going cold and quiet in the middle of the hiring process. But this story ain't about that.
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The Gall of It All Is...
It's one thing to not get a response after follow-ups about an initial round of interviews for a job, or to hear nothing back after pitching yourself or your concept. There's a healthy understanding, on the part of job- or opportunity-seeker, that not every employer or professional has the time to send follow-up emails to the candidates who didn't make the cut or offer individual feedback on why. I also know that most recruiters and prospective employers aren't even legally obligated to follow up with a candidate or tell them their reasons for going in another direction. I get it.
But it's a whole other jar of stank, unprofessional, annoying pickles when you've gotten an offer or you're in good standing with moving forward toward landing an upcoming project only to be met with passive aggression, vague responses, or no response at all in reference to specific next steps. It's also a whole other thing when you knew the person, thought you had a good relationship with them, and they just cut you off with no explanation, .
It's even more infuriating when the "vetting" or planning process took weeks, if not months, so you'd already put in more hours of work to get ready for the multiple stages of that process and you might have even quit or turned down another opportunity in preparation for the one you thought you had in the bag.
Think about it like this: A doctor can charge people for no-shows. So can a hairstylist, therapist and others who offer quality services. When you ghost them, they see it as lost wages (because they could've given your spot to another paying client or patient in need), and it leads to a disruption of their schedules as well as their money flow.
So... what now?
For me, being professionally ghosted was devastating at the time, not simply for the potential money loss but the loss of respect and relationship with the person who ghosted me. Oftentimes, at least in my case, it's not all about the money. Cultivating relationships takes extensions of the heart and use of time that can never be replaced. I was initially very angry, then bitter, then sad, and I kept wondering what I could've done to cause the sudden cut-off. I mean, it's the lack of closure for me. Then the words of my Granny came to mind: "Silence is an answer."
Three things helped me cope and better prepare to avoid the recurrence of emotional trauma and negative financial impact in the future:
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1. Stop taking it personal. It's them, not you.
I had remind myself of why I'm great at what I do and why they're in the wrong for ghosting. I also applied grace and thought back on times when I might have made some professional mistakes, been part of misunderstandings that just couldn't be explained at the time, or made questionable decisions related to work in the past. I then thought about the idea that maybe something was indeed going terribly wrong in that person's life and it might be causing them to embrace unhealthy communication and relationship-building habits. I prayed about it, gave it to God and let it go.
It was also helpful to talk to a trusted mentor in the industry to assess the situation and give me balanced, outside-looking-in advice. A huge part of overcoming situations like this is the self-reflection, because I really didn't have control over much else.
If you need to write down your feelings in a journal, block the person just to feel like you've taken your power back, talk to a loved one to get reminders that you're an amazing person, or seek a therapist to deal with your feelings of abandonment, frustration, or anger (yes, sis, it can be that serious), do that as well. Hey, they ghosted you, so this ain't got nothing to do with being petty or dramatic. It's about learning from it and turning a negative to a positive. Word to Biggie. (Just please, avoid harassing the person with more calls, messages, or emails, and definitely don't talk about the person to others. They no longer deserve any extra energy from you.)
2. Focus on other projects and ways to enrich yourself.
Just like when they say there are "other fish in the sea" when it comes to dating, the same goes for your career opportunities. When I was ghosted by this particular person, I had other clients, so I could focus a bit less on the ghosting than if I didn't. (While ghosting can strike a huge blow to the ego, I've always been one to get pretty nervous about putting all my eggs in one basket anyway, whether it's dating, applying for jobs, or working as a freelancer.)
Just remember that there are plenty of other companies or brands who would love to hire or work with you. Edit your LinkedIn page, get more engaged on the platform, and update the settings to reflect the opportunities you're looking for. Find other platforms where you can find a community of support in your industry as well. (There's an awesome list of other platforms here.) Apply for more jobs, and take charge of your journey to be successful.
If you're unemployed, create projects for yourself like building your professional website (or redesign the one you have), and research new ways to get leads on opportunities. Try volunteer work or building relationships via offering another service you love doing and are great at. Expand your network by attending virtual events, reconnecting with professionals you may have lost touch with during quarantine, joining a professional or mentor organization, or applying for jobs in a totally different sector where your skills might be an ideal fit. Being booked, busy, and blessed (or at least present, positive, and productive) is the best revenge.
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3. Upgrade your vetting process for considering opportunities.
Sometimes we ignore signs that somebody is full of ish in business, just like we do while dating someone. In my case, this person had previously exhibited some pretty suspect behavior related to a previous person they had worked with. They'd insert comments about the other person's personal business during project-related calls with me, and they had a shaky payments and project acquisition process.
Sis, sometimes the signs are there that you might not be dealing with an ideal client or employer. For job seekers, doing a bit more research on a company before even agreeing to the interview can be helpful in avoiding a potential ghoster.
Look up their online reviews, try to connect with someone you know who has worked at the company (or with the particular brand), and find out as much as you can about whether they'd be a good fit for you before the first call—or round of calls—even happens. If you're still impressed and interested, you can peep more red flags during the first round like their urgency to get started with no plan or specifics, or their disrespect of your time when setting up meetings. (I often raise eyebrows on folk who either don't ask me when I'm available and just assume I'll be available whenever they are. Or how about those who don't really seem to be on point when it comes to knowing their own calendar and constantly feel the need to reschedule, for example.)
Ask more questions, get to know people a bit more, and try to build a discernment against BS. Maybe they're a bit overzealous, exhibit signs of stress or anxiety, or they just give you a bad feeling. Their brand or company could have even made the news due to financial problems, workplace scandal, or recent layoffs. Maybe their bare-bones website is a reflection of the type of experience they offer to potential clients or employees or the scarcity of resources. Oftentimes your gut isn't wrong about someone, whether you have proof of eminent danger or not.
You'd feel a lot less offended about a potential ghosting if, in the long run, the person or brand was not up to par in the first place, so exploring involvement wasn't really worth your time anyway.
The moral of the story is...
Nobody deserves to be professionally ghosted, and at the end of the day, it might even be an unavoidable part of life. Direct, specific and consistent communication are true indicators of great leadership, and these have been the main common factors among many of the awesome clients and brands I've been blessed to consistently work for or with.
I now operate the same on this as I have in the past while dating: Not to toot my own horn, but most men have never even had a chance to ghost me. I'd see the passive aggressive, suspect red flags super-early, and I'd kindly decline and delete. (I also approached dating with a deep sense of the fact that power is with me, not them. I do the choosing. But again, that's another story.)
I've always known that any man who wants me will make his intentions clear quite early, and he will almost immediately begin consistently communicating or taking actions to show he's serious. I look into his background and try to get to know people who know him, no matter how we met. (My fiance knew he wanted to marry me the first week we met. He's a Jamaican man who does not hold his tongue nor waste time. He also knew I thought he was crazy for even admitting that, and I reiterated that I had no plans of marrying for several years. He simply slowed his roll and showed, through consistent and deliberate action, that he was serious. Four years later, we're still together.) Any real boss operates the same way to tap into top talent, nurture relationships, and protect their reputation.
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Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Exclusive: Amber Riley Talks Finding Love After Ending Her Engagement
Singer/actress Amber Riley brings the same emotional vulnerability to her art as she does her life—and we are all better for it. The former Glee star and Masked Singer winner opened up about her love life in her recent xoNecole digital cover story, revealing what it took to find the strength to end her engagement and, eventually, find love again.
Credit: Ally Green
Riley first met her ex-fiancé Desean Black, through an xoNecole #MCM post, which prompted her to slide into his DMs and make the first move. After going public as a couple and even appearing together on Netflix's Love That For Us series, Riley and Black decided to call off their engagement. Riley, for the most part, had been mum on the reason behind the split but shared exclusively with xoNecole what led to them ultimately parting ways.
"When it was good, it was good," she explains. "When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there." Riley ultimately decided that she would do what was best for her, regardless of how invested folks might have been in the relationship. "I don't owe anybody a happily ever after," she continued. "You find happiness and enjoy it and work through it."
Fast forward to the present day, Riley is in a happy and seemingly thriving relationship with her new man. Riley revealed her new relationship on Valentine's Day 2023, saying, "I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying.
This time around is different. Riley seems intentional about keeping this relationship a tad more private. She says she is not hiding her boyfriend of eight months but rather being protective of him because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
Riley also shared about her healing journey and the fight that it's been to reach this level of happiness. “I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments."
Read the rest of Amber Riley's Spring/Summer 2023 Digital Cover here.
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