It’s the end of a decade, and I can’t help but reflect on where I am now versus where I was back in December 2009.
This entire decade, pretty much, has been the balancing act between the blog, the family, and the day-to-day work as a public servant for Ontario.
Back then, I’d just started my first job out of the Ontario Internship Program, putting my time and energy into that and the time I spent with Sarah. I didn’t even really use Facebook at the time, much less everything I’d get up to on Twitter just a year later—the world I spend all this time on now as a Canadian Dad was utterly inconceivable to me back then, because so much less was on the line. Nor was I married. Or had any kids. So many of the things that make me a better man and keep me coming back to do the best that I can for all that are things I wouldn’t appreciate until I had them.
But a decade later, my friend Ramy put it to me best—the more you do something, the more your capacity grows to take on even more, and that’s the mentality I’m keeping with me as I get ready for 2020. Work smarter. Plan better. Make better decisions. I’ve come this far this last decade while doing whatever I wanted and getting better at it along the way. But you eventually hit a point where that just doesn’t cut it anymore, and in 2020, I think I’ll finally learn what I’m made of.
LESSON ONE: Success is More Than Just a Number on a Screen
One thing I can tell you that separates the me today from the person I was a decade ago is that I think differently.
When I started this blogger journey, I treated success like it was a quantifiable measure. That I was the sum of the followers I had. Or that I should measure my happiness by the number of comments I got on my work. I would chase after engagement rates, post frequencies and Domain Authority scores, thinking that they were the keys to my success, but what I understand now is that they’re all just indicative of something much larger at play.
It goes back to what I’ve been saying all along—the medium doesn’t matter if you’ve got an amazing story to tell.
When I took a break from creating as intensely as I usually did in the last few months of the decade, it made me understand that it was what I probably should’ve been doing all along—taking the time to make my work great instead of just good. You get used to trying so hard to be first or trying to be on trend that you forget that great work usually doesn’t just pop out of thin air. If you don’t spend the time and nurture it, you’re only doing yourself a disservice.
What that sweat equity looks like for me is bleeding pens dry. Blazing through as many notebooks as I can. I’m trying to spin gold from a dining room table full of straw every night, and as much as it pains some right now to see me work as hard as I do, I keep doing it because I know there are higher heights I can reach if I try.
We don’t talk a lot about Black Canadian history, and that’s probably because so much of it was so horrible.
We had segregation. Just look at Viola Desmond, convicted after refusing to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre in 1946. And though we shake our finger at the United States and their centuries-long enslavement of Black people, we were doing the same thing in Canada for just about as long—the only difference is that Canada hadn’t established itself yet as the country we know today. No—Canada isn’t quite the utopia we make it out to be for its 1.2 million Black Canadians, but we work hard to thrive with the little bit we’ve got.
A Quick Idea of What it’s Like to be a Minority with a Loose Idea of their Identity.
Born and raised just outside of Toronto, Canada—our most populous city with the largest concentration of Black Canadians—I grew used to the idea that I wouldn’t see myself represented in the world around me.
It’s probably better now, but back in the ’90s, being Black and smart just drew comparisons with Steven Q. Urkel. And I’d argue that before we became more Americanized with a basketball team, access to BET and the meteoric rise of Drake, we struggled to find an identity that worked past our discrete pasts into something decidedly “Black Canadian”. We had Caribana. The various neighbourhoods we made our own. But we also had limitations on our educational and work experience from abroad. And continual discrimination from those wary of giving up their way of life. This country’s not only made it tough for Black Canadians to find themselves, but also to get ahead and redefine themselves.
But it’s not all bad.
With Black Canadians holding down five of the 338 seats in the House of Commons (1.5%), six of the 124 seats in Ontario’s Parliament (4.8%), and one of the 25 seats in Toronto’s city council (4%), we’re starting to see representation. Sure, we’re not at every table. We often feel ignored. But, we’ll never be heard if we give up.
There’s no magic solution to make being Black in Canada any easier, but at the very least we’re building the stage for a future where little Black boys and girls can dream bigger than they ever have before.
And all of a sudden, the blog came to a standstill. I can’t blame it on anything in particular—I had more than enough to write about with nearly a dozen posts sitting around at about 90% complete—but things felt different. Some stories felt false. Deadlines didn’t feel as urgent anymore. 2017’s been my strongest year yet without question, but there I was finding myself rather aimless at a time where my lifestyle demanded I be anything but.
My friends—allow me to tell the tale of a man who’d obtained the very world, but soon realised he needed to become a different man altogether to deal with it all.
Other than the ‘grams, this past month hasn’t seen me up to much of anything anywhere. Things have been plenty busy behind the scenes with a heap of things I can’t yet talk about, but all that effort left me with little energy to do my day-to-day the justice it deserved. Perhaps I was uninspired. Or maybe depressed. I hate it when things aren’t logical, and these feelings welling up inside were throwing me for a loop. I needed to get over this so I could get back to doing the things I do best.
Let’s be real—2017’s been ridiculous. Media appearances galore from Tales from the 2.9. Travel. More partnerships, bigger numbers… it’s the first year I honestly feel like I’m doing this hustle justice and not just falling in line with whatever comes my way… but who knows? Maybe it was too much of a good thing.
Thirty-Four: The Best Gifts Don’t Come in Boxes.
I sat pensively on my latest birthday—as one does when they grow another year older—thinking on what I really wanted. I had more than enough stuff accumulated in my house—my desk is quite literally trapped under a pile of product I need to review—but what I could really use was some renewal. Not an entirely fresh start—one shouldn’t ignore the experiences and lessons that make them who they are—but I wanted to feel what I felt when I started this all those years ago. Excitement from meeting new peers. That first time I won something big and realised how much bigger the world was from the one I already knew. I’d lost sight of the magic that drew me to blogging in the first place, but just as everything changed in the blogosphere around me, I too needed to become a new me.
It’s one thing to learn that you can’t do everything—anyone who’s bitten off more than they can chew can tell you that. But it’s another entirely to understand you don’t want to do everything, and at 34, I’m putting the pieces in place to make sure I don’t have to.
Thirty-Four — I’m Ready.
I think I’ve spent more than enough time trying to get my act together—it’s time I get back on track… get back to creating work that gives me hope for the future! There’re some very exciting things afoot in my life—I can’t wait to share them with you… but for now, it’s just good to be back, and I hope you enjoy everything stashed up my sleeves!
Thanks for reading and until the next,
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands:
I feel like we do this every year—I get a little older, grow a little wiser, but somehow miss the mark on accomplishing the countless items left sitting on my to-do list with each passing birthday. Call it being unrealistic or being too hard on myself, but there’s a genuinely great feeling I get from lightening my load by even one item, and it’s that high I keep chasing—especially when I know I’ve done it right.
It’s not something I expect anyone else to get—it’s always proven difficult to articulate the jumbled thoughts inside my cranium, though Lord knows I’ve tried as this blog’s continued to grow. What it comes down to is this—I know myself: I know myself well, and if I ever want to move on to handle some of the bigger challenges in my life, there’s a tome of writing I’m going to have to do first.
You’d think that living a life as a person of colour, I’d have done a series like this far earlier, but I suppose I got sidetracked from everything else with the blog and never gave it a second thought. But some recent experiences starkly reminded me that yes, I am a Black man, and that means the life I live unfolds differently that almost everyone around me.
With Black people making up only 2.9% of the Canadian population, I can’t expect everyone to see things the way I do. Like the fact the Black History Month is so important because we’re one of the few collectives lumped together by our skin colour rather than nationality or religion. Or what the feeling’s like to become a de facto representative for your race when you’re the only one in the room. For all the stories so integral to the Black Experience, it occurred to me that I’d never seen the Black content creators I know tell their tales in one place.
So one day in late January, I came up with Tales from the 2.9 — The Black Canadians Sharing Their Stories in a Digital Age, a project to showcase my fellow Black content creators across the nation in a month that should encourage us to really examine what it means to be Black in Canada and everything we can learn from our experiences.
But I can’t very well ask my peers to share their thoughts without doing so myself, now can I?
So without further ado, welcome to Tales from the 2.9, where you’ll learn about some awesome Black people from across the country with some things to say, and a thing or two about the lives they’ve led as people of colour!
I hope you glean as much from this series as I did putting it together!
Enjoy this read and I’ll see you at the next installment,
Calling the Great White North his home, Casey‘s spent the last few decades in pursuit of creating killer content. From novels as a kid, comics as a teen, to blogs and photos once he could grow a beard, he’ll use whatever’s around him to create amazing stuff.
When he’s not creating, he’s parenting, exploring and trying to make life as awesome as possible for everyone around him.
1) When you think of Black History Month, what are some of the stories and images that come to mind?
Much of what I’ve been exposed to with Black History has been from the American history books, overwhelming with stories of slavery, racism and the Civil Rights Movement. The ones I remember outside of that are far more personal — of the experiences my grandmothers had in the ’70s, both good and bad; what I experienced on a trip to Tanzania and how much they saw me as an outsider; or just understanding what life’s been like for generations of my family in Jamaica — all the sacrifices they made so my brothers and I could thrive in Toronto today.
I’m learning more through the peers and study every day, and I’m hoping to learn more about our accomplishments and achievements through time, rather than the weighty words that we often use after so many forms of oppression.
2) The Black Experience we’re largely exposed to in the media is that of our southern neighbours and the struggles they’ve faced. What’s your experience been as a Black person in Canada, and what have you learned from it?
“I used to get teased for being black
And now I’m here and I’m not black enough
Cause I’m not acting tough
Or making stories up ’bout where I’m actually from”
— Drake, “You & The 6”, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015)
I’ve always found it difficult to define the Black Experience in Canada, perhaps because I’ve felt so removed from it for so long. I’ve been one of three Black kids in schools of 600. I’ve had girls who wouldn’t date me because I wasn’t “Black enough”. I’ve even toyed with publishing a book on the matter — TOKEN: Being Black in a World Coloured Otherwise. But no matter how Black you feel you aren’t, there are still plenty of people who’ll remind you that you’re darker skinned than they are.
The odd looks at the beginning of interviews when a Black man walks in instead of a blonde white female. (Seriously — go look at Google Images of “Casey”.) Or when I go on a cruise and people mistake me for one of the staff — multiple times. We’re so quickly judged by our skin colour that it’s hard not to be bitter sometimes.
When it all comes down to it, I’ve led a good life so far, and its foundation lie with parents who taught me right from wrong, and to let my heritage be a motivator rather than a stone to weigh me down. It’s better to be the first Black person in a career than another marginalized statistic — and that’s a success I’ll never stop fighting for.
3) In sharing your voice with the world, what impression do you hope to leave on the world with everything you do?
As a Canadian content creator, I want to show that great work can come from just about anywhere — the Canadian market may not be as massive as others, but we’ve got plenty of potential up here, and I’m hoping to show the world what can happen when you really put your mind to something!
4) We all benefit from good mentors who guide us along the way to make sure we reach our potential in life. Who was your mentor to teach you from a cultural standpoint, and what’s the greatest lesson you learned from them?
Narrowing things down to a single mentor’s hard for me because I’ve learned so much from the many people I’ve had in my life. The managers who’d take me under their wings to make sure I could navigate the challenges all around me. The older Black kids who shared my experiences and took me in like a younger sibling to make sure I fit in and built my social circles so I’d always have peers to talk to. What I learned from everyone is to make the most of my life despite whatever social barriers life has in store, because ultimately I’m the only one who can determine how my life will end up!
5) If you could say just one thing to the rest of the 2.9%, what would it be?
It might not seem like it with the weight of the world on our shoulders, but the very fact that we feel like we’re on the bottom with the world looking down on us means there’s no better time to climb up and do some amazing things with our community! The possibilities are endless and there’s a wealth of markets we’ve yet to make our marks in — it’s time to explore new options and see what we’re really capable of!
Tales from the 2.9 is an ongoing series on CaseyPalmer.com showcasing Black Canadian content creators and the experiences they’ve had growing up Black in Canada!
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands: