Dreamweavers

"I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours" -Henry David Thoreau

Jelani Memory: Transcript 

JELANI: I’m not, I haven’t finished college. I’m two credits shy. I’m two credits of shy of, it’s like the most inane class, it’s like a sociology elective or something. And I won’t finish. That’s intentional. And there’s a couple reasons. 

One of the reasons was, I had the class I was supposed to do, and I flunked it because I missed an assignment. And I didn’t have it ready on time. The teacher was actually ready to give me an extension and I said, “You know what? If I take this extension now, I’ll be taking extensions for the rest of my life. And I’ll always be given a way out. I actually just want to take this one on the chin. 

HARRIS: That’s a lot of character!

JELANI: This is my senior year. Which ultimately meant I didn’t graduate. But I didn’t go to college to get the slip to get permission to go do the rest of my life. 

And I knew…I knew when I went into college that I wasn’t going to use the degree—the permission slip—to do the thing I was gonna do afterwards. Which meant that wasn’t what I was there for. So part of me not going back and getting that is to show: you don’t have to have ‘it’ to go do the next thing.

INTRO

JELANI: I love work, I’ve never been bored a single day at my work, I’ve always loved all the jobs I’ve had but I think that’s because I’ve given myself permission to pursue jobs that I love. That doesn’t mean they’re easy jobs but I’ve given myself permission to be able to that, to never do a job that I’m not all 3 things: good at it, it makes me money, and I love it. It has to always be those three things. If those 3 things are great, then I pursue it. 

HARRIS: Even when you were younger? Like just coming out of school? 

JELANI: Yeah! I mean, I can even go back…I was a terrible student. Like, really really bad. And mostly because I was just bored in class all the time. 

HARRIS: You were bored in school, but then not…once you were done with school, it was like, this is the fun stuff! 

JELANI: Exactly. This is the fun stuff! 

HARRIS: Interesting. 

JELANI: Cause I got to choose my own projects after school. So getting to choose that route, especially when I embraced that in college and after college was like, it came really really easy. 

HARRIS: It’s like, this is what I want to be doing all along, I just didn’t want to be put in this system for all these years. 

JELANI: Yeah. And part of it is I realized it had some value for some folks, but not value for me. That I could find my own way with things and pursue my own course, which led me from…so I went to Multnomah University, I still am 2 credits shy from a Bachelor of Arts in Bible Theology. I became a photographer directly afterwards, you know, selling stock photography, taking baby photographs, eventually doing weddings, doing weddings a lot. But I kept evolving to go, “well what if I tried this? what if I tried this?” And every time I took on a new piece of business it would become my primary piece of business and I would kill off another piece. 

So at the height of me doing more weddings than any other kind of thing, I would kill it, because I would transition into commercial photography. 

HARRIS: Good for you. 

JELANI: And then transition to getting to do sports portraiture, and then it was like, this video thing actually could be really cool if I made videos.

So I figured I’d just learn it. So I spent a year making videos for free until someone was like, hey, you can do video…can you do this project? I was like, yes. And I got my first paid gig. 

HARRIS: Nice!

JELANI: And then eventually, I got to transition into that being my primary mode of business, and then I would add on photo on top of that. But I always gave myself the freedom to keep pursuing new things. 

HARRIS: And I like how you kept it tight. Sounds like…you take one thing on and you cut something else off. 

JELANI: Yeah, because you can’t do everything. And for me it was, I want to find something that I love,  that I can become good at, it will eventually make me money, get good at that, do that, pursue that, sort of creatively fulfill myself, then find another thing. It’s always easy to be able to find another thing. And that became a natural evolution through my career—if you want to call it a career—to be able to always move to the next thing. 

HARRIS: The next thing would sort of present itself to you. 

JELANI: Yup. Actually I’m a big believer that the thing you’re going to do, five years from now, ten years from now, a year from now, is the thing you’re already doing, but in Beta. 

HARRIS: Really?! 

JELANI: Yeah. 

HARRIS: Like what? 

JELANI: Well, I’ll give a couple examples. So for me, I’ve always been an artist. And so in college that never left, it just sort of laid dormant until it got triggered. And really I was gonna go off and do a whole bunch of things after college that wasn’t photography. Photography was like a nice fun hobby that, in the greatest off chance, might make me enough money to pay off one of my student loans, like over the course of 20 years, right? 

And so I started doing it without it needing to have to be anything. Just out of pure fun, passion, play. And doing that, while I was doing a bunch of other stuff, working at cameras and a few other things, until it started to pay off my bills, and I was like, I think this makes me a photographer. I think, that’s my job now, because I’ve been doing that, right? 

And that, I just had an interest in video. But it wasn’t like, an economic plan, and I started doing it, tinkering with it, until I got it right and that’s even from evolving through different stages of my photo-taking and different things I did. 

But that idea of something being in Beta is like, you don’t just show up and have an opportunity handed to you, because it’ll get snatched right back if you aren’t ready for it. Right? 

I just keep finding along the way that this same thing happening, that I’m beginning to become ready for something when that opportunity arrives to chase it, but in part I think that opportunity arrives because I was ready. Because I’d been in Beta for a little bit. 

HARRIS: Yeah. It sounds like one doesn’t outweigh the other. Like, perhaps they come together, naturally? 

JELANI: Yeah. There’s a…I’m a big fan of, when you get something in Beta, then you start to broadcast that, you start to say, hey here’s what I’m doing. So I said, oh, I’m making videos now. Like, people didn’t know the quality, good bad whatever, it was just like a thing I was doing, and then you get somebody who’s like, oh I know a guy who kind of needs one, can you do that? I was like, yeah I can. 

And that same thing: I got into building websites for a little bit, mostly it was just out of, it was fun, I was kind of good at it, and so you broadcast it a little bit going, hey here’s what I’m doing, right? And it sort of gets to the grape vine, like, oh, I know a guy who needs one, can you do that? Yeah sure. And if you do it, and you do it well, then you get to do another one. If you do that one well, you keep getting to do it. 

HARRIS: But in any case, you started it because you liked it. 

JELANI: I started it because I liked it. Yep, that’s exactly it. 

HARRIS: I like that. And I like how you’re like, you don’t have to wait for someone to call you that. Like, you’re already doing it. So you’re that. You’re taking photos, you’re a photographer. 

JELANI: Yeah. The thing I keep coming across, is, everybody’s waiting for permission. You’re waiting for their permission slip to get to do the thing. Typically that comes in the form of a degree, from a college, right? You get to be a lawyer after you do school and get a permission slip, right? Now you get to go be a lawyer, right? And I think what we’ve done is take really high professional jobs like law—lawyers, doctors, nurses, things like that—and we’ve translated that methodology to every other kind of job. Right? So, photographer, singer, artist, like every other thing we go like, well, Gosh, who am I? Like, I’m not anybody, I’m not just gonna be that. So we don’t give ourselves the permission to go be that thing, so we reach the milestone, we reach some educational sort of status. And for me it was always really easy to go, “Well I am this if I do this”. It doesn't make me good at it, but if I get good at it, then you better believe that I am that. 

***Beginning clip 2***

HARRIS: Yeah! Well that’s what I find really interesting about your story, is like, when I told people I was interviewing you, it’s like, so he has this tech product, it’s called Circle—or the media company is called Circle—and I was like, but he was a photographer before that. Everyone’s like, how does that happen? How’s that make sense? How does he go from photo to tech? 

JELANI: Yeah, I mean, it is really a wild, crazy journey that seems to be circuitous, but yeah there is some nice linear dotted lines where somehow things connect. And I think you know, I always like to say, I was really good at photography by accident. Because I was good at other things. Like storytelling, like being able to understand what people respond to, I just happen to use certain technical tools to achieve something that people resonate with. But I was never bothered with having to use those specific tools to achieve my ends, which is why the flow into video was so easy, because it was just another set of tools to do the same thing I’d been doing all along. 

HARRIS: Wow, like, this is what I do, everything else is kind of a manifestation or a sort of vehicle through which—

JELANI: And if you remember, that whole idea of being in Beta, it’s what I was doing as a kid. I was producing artwork. I was drawing comic book characters because I was obsessed with the X-Men, right? And I was interested in this idea, even as a kid, about drawing something that was larger than life but connected with my humanity. 

I was trying to share something bigger than life but again deeply rooted in human being, and again trying to cause that spark and tell a story that, when you look at it, it wasn’t just good, it wasn’t just accurate, but you felt something. You meant something, right? 

And when I started doing photography it was just a different set of tools to achieve those same things. Because when you’re taking a photograph of somebody, it’s the least literal thing there is. It’s almost all imagined, it’s a point of view - actually what you’re seeing when you see a photograph is the way the photographer sees that person, not the person themselves.

And product development, same theme. What you’re seeing is not just this thing, but it’s a point of view: it’s an angle, it’s a belief on what matters. 

Which is why fundamentally Microsoft has always been bad—actually, Microsoft and Samsung have been bad at copying Apple…is they, they copied the things themselves—or at least tried to—without copying the belief. Now of course, copying belief is very hard, right? 

HARRIS: Cause you can’t make it. 

JELANI: Which a sidenote: which is what’s amazing about Satya Nadella, who’s taking over Microsoft,  he goes, “You know what…let’s just believe what we believe. And here’s what I believe: we’re gonna be a Cloud-first company.” It’s like, oh what does that even mean? And now he’s taking the company in a totally different direction, and they’re innovating, but they’re innovating because they’re not trying to copy. It’s actually really kind of magical, he’s brought a sort of spirit back to that business that wasn’t there before. 

HARRIS: And it sounds like…because I love the idea of a pure belief. And it’s amazing—when I say pure, I don’t want to be too romantic about it—but just that like it means something deeper to you than just profits, or success. And I’m thinking of that, the five years, it sounds like a belief can be strong enough to make those five years so you’re not a martyr. 

JELANI: Yeah…You know like it’s funny. Like, it all sort of mashes together. The goal is always the same but the execution always looks different. The goal is to make something that matters—and making something that matters, it doesn’t really matter how long it takes you to make that thing, because it matters, right? And you find that thing over time, and how that evolves, and I think it’s better said like, that I spent my whole life chasing something and reaching it but am continuing to chase it anyways. Which is like that passion to make something that matters, but to make more of it. You know?

I dearly miss my photography business. I miss shooting weddings. I miss doing charcoal portraiture. I miss reading comic books as a kid. But I miss those things in a fond way, not in a longing that’s like I wish I could go back. It’s that those things matter. And I got to move on to more things that matter, and I think that leads to not just a fulfilling career but a fulfilling life. That separation between personal and work is really ridiculous, I think. That we bring our persons to work, work is deeply personal, and it ought to be, and we do our best work when it is personal to us, I think. And at the end of the day I’m not just striving to like make work matter, but I’m trying to make my life matter. 

And my job is a part of that. And my work is a part of that.

HARRIS: It’s all one thing. 

JELANI: It’s all one thing. We’re all one person. We have this idea that we’re different people, in different parts of our lives, but we’re really not. It’s a really crazy way to think, that the person you are when you go home is not the person you are at work. You might bring a different set of skills, or knowledge there, but it’s still accessing from the same bucket. And those experiences, I believe they cross into each other, you know, like if you get a bad night’s sleep at home, that affects your next day at work. If you have to stay late because your boss is having you stay late, that means you get home later. It’s like, these things should be really obvious, but we try and sequester them off, as if they’re complete, complete different buckets, if you will. 

***Beginning: Clip 3***

HARRIS: And it sounds like for you, it’s been pretty well-integrated? Or did you ever kind of struggle with…because it seems very seamless. 

JELANI: Yeah, I mean I’d say it’s always been seamless for me. 

HARRIS: That’s awesome. 

JELANI: But I just don’t know any other way. 

HARRIS: What about people where it’s not seamless? What do you think is happening? 

JELANI: That’s a good question. I think…the thing I hear most—and it sort of goes back to that idea of permission—is such a high desire for security, and safety, and reducing struggle as much as possible, that people start really meandering and moving in ways that avoid anything that’s dangerous, anything that’s risky, and actually I think in that process create the most risky kind of life.

HARRIS: Really? What do you see in the riskiness?

JELANI: I mean…imagine always avoiding something hard, always avoiding anything that’s a major obstacle, always doing things safe…that’s gonna lead you to a life, or a career, that ultimately can’t be satisfying, can’t be sort of character building, and will ultimately be unfulfilling, which is the riskiest thing possible, right? Um…to spend your entire life doing something that doesn't matter, right? That’s not even a risk remotely worth even considering. And yet…

HARRIS: And yet many people are there. 

JELANI: Many people are there, right? Because they’re told, oh, well what if that doesn’t work out? You know? Then where will you be? Or this like…so…

So I got to do two years of student body president. The first year was an utter failure, like, it was bad. Like, public apology to the school, you know, losing friends on my team, and I just had times of like, “I sucked at this”. I thought I was gonna crush it and I suck at this. But I was like, you know what, I think I just learned how to do it though. I’m gonna do another year, because next year I’m gonna take everything that I learned here, and actually apply it. And luckily I got elected again to do it another year, and I think I did an amazing job, like I figured it out. I figured out how to do that thing that it was, and that was - it was really about, I don’t know, being able to learn it as I went. And that was okay. It was okay if I failed. That wasn’t actually a big deal. We even fail as a part of the process, not the end of the process. 

HARRIS: Which it seems pretty inevitable too - like when you’re starting something new, you hadn’t done it before, but also that like…I know, speaking from my experience, like looking back at some of those, like, failures, I’m like damnit, I was BAD at that. It was like, that made me who I am today. And that sounds kind of cliche but it’s true. That’s where the lesson is. Where the lesson came from. 

JELANI: Which is the incredible part of that is that we can’t, like, most people struggle to take that reality, that their failures make them who they are, and see that in the midst of their failure. Like if you can see that into your failure it changes the whole thing. Where you go, instead of, “Something bad is happening to me”, you go, “Oh my Gosh, I think actually something really good is happening”. That something positive is happening in this moment, where I’m failing, not just what can I learn so I can get past this, but what is this thing now and what is it shaping into, what is it producing? Who is it making me into being? And how can I embrace that, and not try and push it back and reject it and try and limit the struggle of it, you know? But to take it on, you know? 

HARRIS: That this thing happening right now is not trying to hurt me. 

JELANI: Yeah. 

HARRIS: Or like, not, at its deepest level, but this is my next opportunity to grow. 

JELANI: Exactly. And it’s, like um, the thing I say to my kids when they’re upset, is I try and go, is something bad happening to you? And for them to be able to think about that and go, no, and I go, but why are you upset? And they can sort of search their feelings to understand that, and they can go, cause I wanted that thing and I didn’t get it. And that can be cause of their own selfishness, you know what I mean? But to get them to see that and understand that, you know? And to like…here’s one of the worst things a parent can do, is when their kids crying just go, “Oh, don’t cry!” And try and wrap them up really quick and make their tears go away. No, let them cry. They feel a thing called sadness, or pain, or grief. This is what the body does when it feels sad. Let it do that. Be in the midst of that with them, sit in that with them, but don’t try and wash it away or take it away or invalidate it or something. Or give them something to go, oh I don’t want you to feel pain, right? Because then you’re gonna build kids that aren’t resilient at all, that can’t handle anything. 

And so we do that with our own failures, which is remarkable to me. We try and satiate the pain of the failure right away. We try and take it away, we try and take our minds off of it, we try and numb ourselves, we try and veg out, we distract ourselves. Or, even worse, we avoid the possibility of failing at all. 

So when something does happen, somebody dies, some negotiation fails, we lose a contract, we get fired, we don’t know how to handle it at all. We like, we lose ourselves, right? Instead of building up a history and a resilience of struggle, of pain, of those things that are actually just a really natural part of life, that aren’t really bad in themselves. We don’t like them, they don’t feel good, but everyone knows that feeling after you’ve had a good cry, how you feel afterwards, it’s that feeling of relief, we never really have time to let ourselves get there. Especially professionally, we just…yeah, we don’t let ourselves get there. 

HARRIS: You’re a really good father, I wanted to say that. I think everyone can like, can gain something from that. 

There’s another moment that really interested me. Um, and this was the…what sort of hooked me about your story, was the failed Kickstarter to the call from Disney. 

JELANI: Sure. 

HARRIS: And I know that you’ve talked about it a lot, I was wondering about…given what we just talked about, that moment, when the Kickstarter failed, did that hurt? 

JELANI: Yeah. I mean, again, just like, just like anything hurts. Just like failure hurts, just like stepping on a Lego hurts, you know what I mean? Like, yeah. But it’s like the…I’m not a fan of pushing through, because pushing through says I’m gonna turn myself off, I’m gonna come out on the other side of this so I don’t have to feel anything until I’m good again, and then I’m gonna feel it. You feel the thing while it’s happening, but you don’t, likeI think our natural instinct—without some training and without some really deep thinking—is when we feel pain, is to stop. Whether it’s sadness, physical pain, or whatever, right? Which is why we’re always looking for shortcuts - how do I get the thing without feeling the pain? Without the cost? And that was painful. It was really painful. But it wasn’t the end. And that’s the great thing about it. We didn’t know what the way out was, but it wasn’t the end. 

I mean, it was really as simple as that - like, that calculus was always really simple for me. 

HARRIS: Calculus? 

JELANI: Meaning, like, just because you fail doesn’t mean you have to stop. Or it doesn’t mean it’s over. It doesn’t mean that it’s all said and done. Does that make sense? 

I mean again it’s really…it sounds really like trite, it’s simple. But um…

HARRIS: But it’s way different when it’s happening. And again cause like, I think a lot of people, I’d say myself, don’t really know how to internalize it. Where, see, failure, quote unquote anxiety, this is a sign saying it isn’t the end for me. 

JELANI: Yeah. It’s…I look at more…stuff is going to happen. Good things, bad things, hard things, crappy things, all across the board. They’re like mile markers. 

HARRIS: With regularity, they will happen. 

JELANI: Yeah. 

HARRIS: This is the spice of life. 

JELANI: Nobody gets to the 50th mile marker and goes, “I give up”. You know? When they know they have a hundred miles to go. So it’s like, so what did you think was going to happen? Like, does it have to be all perfect? Or do you have to know, with 100% clarity and certainty that you will reach the end thing? 

HARRIS: And what is that end thing? 

JELANI: Exactly. What is the end thing? But even most people, if you were to tell them, you’re going to build something successful, it’s gonna take you this long, and here’s all the stuff that’s gonna happen along the way…want to sign up? They’re gonna go, “Well I don’t wanna go through that.” Even knowing the end, I don’t wanna go through that. That sounds terrible. Right? It’s like, they want the thing, but they don’t want the way to get there, um…

And I mean my best example is the marathon. It’s like, everybody would love to run 24 point however many miles, right? Nobody wants the pain of being able to do that. 

HARRIS: These are what your legs are gonna feel like after day 7. 

JELANI: Exactly. And for me, it’s just being about to look at that thing and go, uh, this is actually what it’s supposed to look like. This is mile marker 17, and the journey to get there, in fact, I actually walk in going, it’s very likely that I will reach my end destination. Do you think there are destinations that you’re trying to achieve, trying to reach, um…if I just stay in the game, that’s actually, that’s the difference between making it and not making it - it’s just staying in the game. Not quitting the journey. And most people just quit. 

They just leave the journey because they don’t like the journey. And for me, having the certainty of the thing coming in the end, by virtue of just staying in it, that means, well then I’ll be in this for awhile. That thing’s gonna come, it’s gonna be cool, it’s probably gonna look a little different than I thought it was gonna look, but this journey thing, I think this is where its, it’s for me more time spent there than this thing, than at the end thing, so I probably should enjoy it more along the way. How can I enjoy it more along the way? What can I learn along the way? What can I embrace along the way? 

HARRIS: What about those moments though where it’s freaking dark? When it’s hard? And it’s hard to stay conscious of that…like, how can I still get something from this? 

JELANI: Yeah, and I mean, well, part of it, it comes down to, um…what you’ve staked into it. So for me…those journeys, um they’re all different, right? My role as a father in that journey is different from my role as a husband is different from my role as a founder of Circle, and I stake different pieces of who I am from those things. 

So that, well here’s the thing: you put the wrong things, the wrong eggs in the wrong basket, then when that thing fails, it wipes out a piece of you that shouldn’t be wiped out.  

HARRIS: What do you mean? 

JELANI: It’s…it’s going, “I matter if my business is successful.” Soon as you say that, watch out. Cause then any time it gets really risky or close to danger or you do actually experience a real failure, all the sudden you know that. And that’s—those two things do not connect. But we make them connect, right? Which makes us cheat, short cut, do all sorts of things and not actually enjoy the process because we’ve got something baked into what we’re doing, that’s actually not directly connected to you. 

HARRIS: Wow!

JELANI: Which is why like, for me, um, that’s the most like intimately connected with my relationship with my wife, right? Like, nothing should be working at the expense of that. Anything. Work, kids, that doesn’t matter. 

And actually, because that’s a real core piece of where I’m gonna get my sense of mattering, right? Is actually being a good husband. Not necessarily being successful at my job, which sounds a little silly, but actually, removing that sort of risk allows me to take the kind of risks that should be taken at a job. 

HARRIS: Okay. My last question for you. It’s what I ask everyone. Why do you love what you do? 

JELANI: I mean, it’s really simple: because I’m made to do it. 

Like it taps into who I am innately, from all my different weird strange skills. It spans so many different things. But I get to bring all those things to bear which ultimately makes it immensely fulfilling. 

It’s like, I imagine a woodworker - like, if they only got to use one of their tools the whole time, and just have all the rest just sitting there, but I get to sort of sit down on my bench, all my possible tools are there, and I use every single one of them every day. 

HARRIS: What do you say to someone who’s…they’re not there. Like they’re in a job they don’t really enjoy. And they know a few things that they’re good at, is there anything next that…

JELANI: You know, it’s funny…most kids, they like to ask “why” a lot. And my kids are no different. I’m a parent who likes to ask why a lot, so I’ll ask my kids why. And I force them to say the Truth, the thing they really believe. And it takes awhile to get that, it takes like 10 questions down until they really able to get there with the thing, whatever it’s about. 

I would ask the person in that position, why? So you have a job you don’t like, why? Because you need to pay rent, why? And just follow it down this rabbit’s trail and you almost always get to that answer that they’re likely to go say something and they’ll know it’s wrong. They’ll know they shouldn’t believe that, or embrace that, or pursue that, but it sat at the core bottom of all their beliefs, right? Which is like, well, I just, you know like, “well my dad’s never been proud of me, and I just want him to be proud of me”. So that led to like a rabbit trail of like that’s why I’m doing the thing I don’t like. 

Or I’m afraid of failure, so that’s my means for doing this really safe and secure job. Or I’m afraid that if I can’t keep up with my car payments and my house payments that my wife’s not gonna like me, and she’s gonna think I’m like not a good husband. That’s why I’m doing this. 

And once you get there, people start to go, oh…maybe I should just go and ask my wife, do you still like me? Do you love me? If I did this, would you be mad at me? You know what I mean? 

And I think at the core of this, and we haven’t talked about this, is that people don’t wanna tell themselves the truth. We either ignore it, or we lie to ourselves about what’s really true, about why we’re doing the things we’re doing.

It can drive someone nuts about why they haven’t graduated college. Which is crazy to me. It’s like, I’ve had a couple careers after college. The thing that college was supposed to get me, like, I got it, right? That’s true, and they can go, yeah yeah yeah, but you didn’t finish? And it’s like, but what’s at the core of that? And it’s their thing going like, if you don’t have a degree, then like…and they don’t know what to say after that, it’s like, something’s wrong, I don’t know what’s wrong, but something’s wrong, right? 

And it’s their core belief of like, well, you know you’re successful, when you go off from high school to go to college, and you get a degree and you get a job. And all the sudden when one piece of that puzzle is missing, people go, “Well wait, like, but that doesn’t make any sense? That’s not cool, that’s not fair, that doesn’t…those things don’t connect.” 

But I think people aren’t asking themselves those deeper questions and really being honest with themselves about what really motivates them, and you’d be surprised by how much status, fame, approval…motivate people to do very strange things. 

HARRIS: So, it sounds like, I’m trying to figure out that process. That ‘why’ process. Like, is that with someone else? Like journaling? 

JELANI: Yeah, just be honest with yourself. I mean, like, sit down and take the time to have a scary conversation with yourself, which is: why am I doing this? Why am I actually intentionally making myself unhappy? 

HARRIS: Yeah. No one’s forcing you. 

JELANI: No one’s forcing you. And actually it’s like, I’m amazed when people go like, “I don’t like my boss”. It’s like, so go somewhere else. And it’s like, oh well…and it’s really easy to like, you get like two questions in and see: but you’re choosing that. But you’re choosing that! 

HARRIS: And that’ll frustrate people too. 

JELANI: Exactly. 

HARRIS: It’s a hard thing to own. 

JELANI: Exactly. And that’s another thing - like we wanna lie to ourselves, and we also don’t wanna own the responsibility of our current plight. We want to blame it on somebody else. But even if we can change it, like, changing it means owning whatever comes next. Right? And that’s scary for people. 

I just go: I’d rather choose something that makes me mildly happy than have somebody choose for me what makes me maybe outrageously happy. Like getting to choose that means you own it, right? And you bear responsibility of it. 

HARRIS: Yeah. I love that. You choose your own evolution, in every moment. Like you’re choosing how you can evolve greater. And I think that inherent in that is ownership. Owning your growth and owning your…your life!

JELANI: Yeah. Which is why genuinely I think school is so hard for me, because I wasn’t the typical student that was like, oh I’m never gonna use this for anything, like why am I learning calculus? It was just going like, ‘I could be doing better things’. I want to own my time. What I’m doing, because I think I can go make some things that matter. 

And I find a lot of encouragement from all sorts of other stories from founders and entrepreneurs who bore that same likeness, of just wanting to own their own path. To own their own future, to make a new thing. To not just follow in somebody else’s footsteps. 

I don’t know who said this, or how it was exactly quoted, but it was like, you know, uh…don’t try and be, you’ll never become the next Elon Musk by trying to be like Elon Musk. Do it by trying to be yourself. 

HARRIS: Same with Microsoft and Apple. 

JELANI: Yeah! It’s like…and I am obsessed with like, just like being the best version of me. Whatever that means. But that’ll, but it’ll bear itself out in a very specific way because I’m uniquely made of a bunch of different parts and influences and experiences that will get worn out in a very unique way. 

And really I’m on a mission to more clarify that, and not to be busy about trying to copy others, or be like others, or carry the same status as others, cause that ‘look-a-like game’, it’s a dangerous one to play. Because then you might end up at the end of the road realizing you’re not even yourself anymore. You’re just a version of somebody else, that ultimately is very unenjoyable. 

And I think, I think when people hear my story, the remarkable jarring-ness of bible college, to photography, to technology, makes them go, Huh. okay, like…but how? And my how is just like: Be your own how. Do your own thing. You know, like, figure that out for yourself.  

               © 2016 Harris Newman - Portland, OR