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.
The hardest part of creating great content is figuring out where all the pieces go.
The job of a great storyteller is creating a compelling narrative from beginning to end. No fluff to lose your audience’s attention. No ambiguity so they miss the point. A great storyteller uses every tool at their disposal to tell tales that stay with people long after they hear them.
And it’s rare—with blogging, most creators only think a post at a time. They pat themselves on the back for a job well done when they knock a story out of the park.
But there’s a much bigger story at hand—that massive overarching story that started when you shared your very first piece of content with the world and that you’re still developing even as you hustle today.
Maybe it was when you first became a parent and started jotting all your thoughts as your whole world changed around you. For others, it’s that proud moment they finally start a business and begin changing their destinies.
But for me, it goes back earlier still—to my first days as a writer in the ’90s when I wrote short stories and novels as a teenager. I didn’t know then what I know now—that it was the start of a story more than twenty years in the making. One that’d show me where I need to go next.
I told myself that once I made my way through my never-ending pile of paper, I’d get myself a Nintendo Switch with the latest Mario and Zelda games to reward myself for all the hard work. Which is great, because getting months ahead in my content by getting all of this done is the only way I’d find the time to play them.
It’s not the paper itself that’s the problem—I’m my most creative when I write things out by hand—but all that creativity leads to a ton of unfinished ideas, piling up to the sky as they await the finishing touches that’ll let me share them with the world! I’ve kept a high standard for my work—easy wins like question posts and blindly following trends isn’t my style… I’m trying to create content that’ll forever outlast me. We’re in a world right now where few want to invest in anything needing more than a few minutes of their time, but I’d rather not sell my soul for the sake of popularity.
The other night I was typing up a storm in #blkcreatives—by far my favourite Twitter chat right now—when something caught my eye.
That month’s theme was money and money management, which invariably got us talking about how we make money. Black folk are all too familiar with the hustle. We’re raised believing we need to work twice as hard to get half as far as our non-Black peers, but no one discusses the consequences of this thinking when left unchecked.
We’ve never been big on mental health. I sought professional help a few times in my 20s because I just pushed myself too hard. Working hard is important—I don’t have time for those complaining about their lives while doing nothing to change them—but so is finding balance. I’ve spent much of 2017 putting everything I could into growing the brand, but with all the things tugging me in every other possible direction—my family, my job, and my church—I just reached a point where I’d no more to give.
And this sorely affected my writing.
I’m don’t lack things to write—my to-do lists dozens of items deep—but writing is a feeling process. How well you write is completely dependent on how well you feel, so when you’re feeling burnt out, it isn’t doing any favours to anyone.
Something needed to give before it was me who took the hit!
The name of the game is mediocrity. Mediocre blogs that don’t share anything worth reading; people who skip birthdays for mediocre events; mediocre personalities, expectations and lives. No one’s striving for anything amazing anymore.
And it boggles my mind—everything’s literally within reach, but when people find out how much work it takes to build a personal brand and cultivate it to the point where people actually want to read what you write, they just give up. They rather spend time telling you it “must be nice” than to build anything meaningful for themselves, letting themselves fail before they’ve really given anything a shot—and I can’t go for that.
I stopped listening to the haters a long time ago—no more of the people who thought I was “setting myself up for disappointment” when they hear my lofty dreams or peers willing to create content that was simply “good enough”; I’ve spent many years getting to know myself, and can tell you that if I don’t keep pushing to get better with every piece I put out, I may as well quit now, ‘cuz I know I won’t make it through.
But I get it—I get that some people only got in this hustle to get their money and go, not overly concerned about what they leave behind as long as they get their cheque. That there’s a literal army of bloggers who don’t give two cares about standing out, long as there’s a shortcut or two to feed their bottom line.
But there’s no cheat sheet that’ll tell you how to reach the top of the heap. No membership guide that’ll tell you when you’ve “made it”, and the perks you can expect at each stage of the game. This is something you need to build for yourself, doing it because it fuels you, pumping through your veins—those who’ve come out looking for an easy payday quickly realize this grind demands more than most are willing to give, and it’s the few who know they need more than money from it all who’ll still be here in the end.
Which is why I’m losing my mind trying to get back on my horse after what feels like an eternity spent without a solid blog post out.
Before heading out on a 10-day trip to Mexico to see my sister-in-law get married in a little place called Tequesquitengo, I could feel it creeping in on me from all sides—a heap of sponsored content that wasn’t going to write itself; plenty of action with the 9-5 that needed handling before I took the time off; and a very comprehensive to-do list that wasn’t going away without doing what I needed to do as a Dad and doing right by my family. It’s easy enough to call yourself a blogger—slap a few words together, add a few photos and call it a day—but putting out content that’ll do any better than the stuff you’d find in a local community newsletter is a full-time gig unto itself.
It’s a struggle, though—I’ve spent countless hours trying to find myself: working past the sponsored posts to examine some deeply rooted parts of my soul—my ever-changing life as a father, trying to do the best I can for my children without sacrificing the things that make me who I am. Further studies into life as a Black man in one of the most diverse cities on the face of the planet. I’ve been so caught up in the hustle that I’ve failed to feed my soul, and that’s something that’ll need changing if I don’t want to get reacquainted with burnout.
But knowing what I want to write and doing it justice are two different things—have I led the kind of life that makes me qualified to discuss any of it? Can I write the kind of stuff that’ll matter years down the road, or am I chasing an ideal I’ll never manage to touch, stuff that’s no better than any of my peers?
This is what keeps me up at night—knowing how badly I want to reach my potential, but not knowing if I’ll ever get there. Though I’ve written long enough and hard enough to be confident that my work can do great things, I still can’t convince myself it has what it takes to change lives. Or that it can do any more than simply take up digital space and do any better than the uninspired memes and uninformed opinions that already constantly plague us.
I sit here, and I’ve yet to be convinced that my work can outlast me.
And that’s what it really comes down to—I want so badly to create classics that the pressure I put on myself sometimes halts me in my steps… but we all know there’s only one way I’m going to reach my goal, and that’s to keep on writing.
So that’s exactly what I’ll do.
Be Mediocre if You Want—But Remember; Hard Work ALWAYS Pays Off.
These moments where self-doubt takes hold and I start questioning whether I’ll actually manage to make something valuable from my efforts, I have to remind myself of the things I’ve accomplished already, and how I would’ve called it quits a long time ago if I listened to everyone telling me what they thought I couldn’t do. That I couldn’t be successful if I strayed from the safe path—that a stable job, good family and debt-free existence were as far as my dreams should go. That I couldn’t exceed my life’s station—that a life without trust funds, Ivy League schools and family connections could only take me so far, and that I should leave greatness for those better equipped for it… it’s simply not meant for a lowly commoner like myself. Sure—I look at my peers who show up on the scene more often; the ones travelling across the globe and going to the hottest events… and while it’s obvious to me that this would’ve been easier when I was younger and childless, you don’t just quit because something gets harder.
You just get better at it and figure out what works for you.
So I hope you didn’t miss me too much, but the boy is back—you can only let a cloud hang overhead for so long before it’s time to get yourself together and move on; when it feels like the world’s trying to hold you back, that’s when you shine your boots, stand tall, and remind it that ain’t nobody got time for that.
But the hustle continues and I’ve still a million and one other things that I could be doing, so I’m gonna get back to it. If you made it this far down the post, kudos to you, and I’ll tell you this—if the 2016 we’ve seen so far is any indication of things to come, we’ve still got a very interesting year ahead of us!
Thanks for continuing to check the blog out and until the next,
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands: