My life’s story is chock full of unpopular truths. Raw truth. Stark truth. The kind of truth that does not fill people with the warm and fuzzies or always leave them coming back for more. Perhaps I’ve always known this, but I didn’t realize it fully until Sunday night.
During the first episode of Startup Is The New Black it was my job, alongside cohosts Briana and GG, to discuss the business of writing. I prefaced something I said with, “I don’t think a lot of people like to hear this, but…” My suspicions were confirmed because in real-time, people had the ability to like what I was saying, or more accurately click a button to give me “props.” As I spoke, my eyes couldn’t help but dart to the props emoji and notice if something I said received a flurry of likes or not.
We’re typically affirmed or invalidated via likes in retrospect–an old photo we post, a status update we publish. But, we’re rarely substantiated by those insatiable and intoxicating likes real-time, where every little word escaping our lips is on the chopping block. It’s like the jury deciding the verdict before the prosecution has had a chance to rest its case.
I walked away from that evening feeling out of sorts and disjointed from my purpose. What was a new and exciting opportunity so graciously offered to me dissolved into my own internal battle for a social media stamp of approval. For the first time in a long time, I questioned my own story and how I chose to tell it.
I closed the laptop and called one of my friends.
“I told people that I still work full time. That none of this happened overnight. I told them that it took five years before I made my first dollar from writing. And I don’t know if they liked any of it,” I said.
“But, that’s the truth, isn’t it?” he asked.
Of course it’s the truth, albeit not a resoundingly resonant one. And how could I blame the audience? Anytime I learn someone is an entrepreneur, artist or anything outside of the 9 to 5 mold, I’m instantly drawn to them. I want to pitch a tent in their mind, stay awhile, and learn the lay of their land. I want to ask questions and extract every single ounce of advice. People who thrive outside of the mold intrigue and inspire me, simple as that.
At the same time, life outside the mold is not my current reality. Not now, anyway. My truth is that I still have 20k+ in student loans and $1300 dollars a month to pay in rent. My truth is that I am solely responsible for keeping the lights on in apartment 202 and keeping a feisty feline named Roxy fed. My truth is there are these silent moments when I thank God for stability and the chance to build my dream without it hinging on a dollar.
There are other unpopular truths. The things that have happened for me have taken a lot of work, patience, sacrifice, juggling, resilience, and lost sleep. They didn’t appear overnight. I never went viral. No one aside from my mama gave a shit about what I so freely wrote online for an entire year. I’ve burned bridges; I’ve lost battles. I’ve cried over emails lexically ripping me a new one. I’ve kicked myself for words I wish I would have garnered the guts to say.
None of us this has come easy. All of it has been a fight. And even four years in, I feel like I’m in the most nascent stages of my creative career. See, my truth is that I still battle inadequacy, doubt, and the temptation to give up on a routine basis. But, somehow, my passion pushes me out of the cave and back into the sun every single time.
These aren’t statements or stories that people immediately gravitate toward. They do not feel good and they certainly don’t paint a rosy, easy-to-come-by portrait of success. My pursuit of the American Dream, obtained by way of balancing gigs while pulling myself up from the boot straps, is a narrative people hardly want to hear, let alone live. Nonetheless, if you want anything remotely worthwhile in this life, you have to both put up and shut up. You have to do the work. If you want it overnight, you clearly do not want it badly enough.
So, that is the story I have to stand by. It is the only success story I can tell. And maybe I have to remind myself to tell that story unwaveringly, like it or not.