The Creator’s Dilemma

“I just promised myself that I would never be totally dependent on my art again because it made me resent something that I love.”

-Atlanta Hip Hop Artist/Entrepreneur/Activist, Killer Mike

I heard this in an interview Killer Mike (one of my favorite Southern Hip Hop artists) did with Radio/Media Personality Charlamagne. Recognizing that many of my readers are from the Northwest and maybe don’t have the perspective on the Southern Rap Scene in the 90’s, I’ll give some context: In my opinion, Southern Hip Hop was long in the shadow of East/West Coast Hip Hop Culture through the 90’s. Atlanta, GA was a place that really put the South on the map as far as Hip Hop goes.

Sometimes an artist can be in the wrong area and sometimes they can be in the wrong era. To me, that’s Killer Mike. Lyrically, he’s one of the dopest rappers to ever come from the South. However, his music had a conscious/social bend that wasn’t as main stream as many other artists were at the time. He was told by famous Houston Artist, Bun B, “No joke! You’re probably ten years ahead of your time. It’s going to be hard but stay just with it.”

The quote that starts this post really crystallizes how I felt at the end of last year, up until a couple months ago when I began learning the skill of Day Trading. I get so much positive response from speaking but I’m still relatively obscure. It’s tough to know you have the goods but can’t get to the customers that want to pay top dollar for those goods. What’s also frustrating is the fact that I know I’m saying things that people don’t want to hear:

  • “If you think kids today are weak, it’s because they’re watching weak undisciplined adults.”
  • “If you are not experiencing life the way you want to, it is your own fault, no one else’s.”
  • “I’ve found that the deep dark parts of our lives… the ones we are scarred to unpack… often have the most profound and life changing answers.”

In a world filled with instant gratification and vilifying, accepting personal responsibility is not a popular approach. However, when you get past pain, shame, and guilt you begin to realize you have control because you accepted responsibility. This means you can change the way you experience a situation. But the problem is…

  • That’s not the Black Man from the South telling you that all the ills of our society are based in White Privilege.
  • That’s not the naturally lean athlete telling you to get up and workout while you silently dismiss my admonition as coming from someone who doesn’t understand being overweight and body image issues.
  • That’s not the digital activist telling you that all social media is high-jacking your brain chemistry and it’s destroying us so you don’t feel the burden of responsibility to make yourself go through the process of digital detox… only to realize you use social media to hide from your real life that you might hate.

Nope, I say if you are unhappy with the trajectory of your life, it’s your fault. If somebody lied to you, you chose to believe it. If somebody traumatized you, you choose to remain stuck in time, a victim to the incident. Of course, this is medicine that I must take first, being the messenger.

I had this idea that if I truly went hard and spoke the truth of what I have learned over a very young but very full life, people would hear it. After all, results matter don’t they? I talk the talk about personal accountability and self discipline, and I would say my track record shows that I walk the walk as well. On the date of my writing this I made approximately $70 day trading in the span of about 30 minutes. It was an amazing feeling. It’s said that 90% of day traders lose money. Why? Lack of personal accountability and self discipline. I’ve developed those mental skills through so many different challenges and now I’m simply applying them in a new way that will hopefully generate a sustainable income. It takes the pressure off of my first love, speaking to inspire. Killer Mike did the same thing when he realized that putting all of his chips into hip hop meant becoming frustrated with his craft and a world that wasn’t ready for what he had to say. He diversified into other business endeavors. Now (15-20 years later) with the nature of social justice in today’s world, Killer Mike’s message seems to be more resonant than ever as he is looked at as a social and political leader in the Atlanta Community. Killer Mike, who once sold crack cocaine, has worked closely with the Mayor of Atlanta (Keisha Bottoms) Mayoral Transition Team and The Bernie Sanders Election Campaign. That’s DOPE AS HELL! He still makes music, he owns a chain of barber shops, he invests in real estate, and he is an agent for positive change in his community. In my opinion, that body of work is way better that selling millions of records or winning a music award (nothing wrong with those things… Killer Mike calls himself a compassionate capitalist).

This highlights that we live in a time where we can be more than one thing. Many people have side hustles these days and are working to create multiple streams of income. If you think about it, we really have the lowest barriers to entrepreneurship, ever. E-Bay, Amazon, E-commerce… House Flipping, Wholesaling… For me, Day Trading Stocks. Given the willingness to be patient enough to learn the right strategy, all of these things can be done with a laptop and internet connection. Not to mention what social media allows in terms of marketing. The other beautiful part about these things is the fact that you can create whatever schedule you want. This is what hit me about speaking… it’s not a 24-7 job. I practice. I write. And… yes… I’m posting on social media again (LinkedIn). That doesn’t take all day, so why not add another skill set that has a high financial upside with low logistical investment?

I was once of the mindset that you should just focus on one thing, especially when it comes to work and entrepreneurship. However, particularly for those of us who have a creative side hustle that leverages our unique experience and perspective, that may not always be a useful approach. The joy in an artist/creative endeavor is in the ability to craft something that is yours. I would argue that a very similar thing happens in entrepreneurship in efforts to solve problems in unique ways. The modern world allows for a sort of jack of all trades approach. 100 years ago, if my main source of income was farming, it may have been difficult to also own a sewing shop in tandem. The two activities individually require tons of energy and resources. Today, if you wanted to have a specialty online store for gourmet chocolates, blog about parenthood, and host a live event 2x/year on being a parent of young children while building a business, you can do that. You can also work a normal 8 hour day, Monday – Friday at one employer. You can also work part-time on the weekend while you Write, Speak, and Day Trade Monday – Friday, like I do. Technology makes it possible to choose one thing or multiple things. It’s on the individual to be self aware to understand what the right mix looks like in different parts of life.

Here’s the point: I’m not the person that’s going to tell you that having a Plan B means you lack confidence in Plan A. I also think their is validity in focusing on one thing and not having a Plan B. Again, each one of us is going to have to choose the level and type of risk we can tolerate. What I will say is that financial power allows one an authenticity of communication in any realm. An Artist with multiple streams of income can remain true to the message they are trying to convey in their art. A teacher that has saved aggressively to achieve financial freedom can feel the freedom to speak truth’s to administration that a teacher who is financially strapped, can’t. It seems as though we live in a time where the knowledge and resources to create financial independence have never been more readily accessible. I would encourage anyone who has a product, service, or idea they are trying to push into the world, to do the work of stabilizing their financial well-being. The psychological advantage of remaining true to your first-love (whatever that may be) while also reaping the tangible benefits of stable income can’t be overstated.

When I began to consider other income streams, there was a part of me that questioned if I was selling out. Was I just chasing money? A large measure of success in business is being able to stay in the game long enough until the environment is ready to receive what you have. That’s what seems to have happened in the example of Killer Mike. He created other financial opportunities and now his music is being received in a new way, 15-20 years later. You can see this in other areas of life as well: Finances impact the Health of Marriages, Finances Impact a Person’s College Experience, Finances Impact a Person’s Access to Healthcare etc. Am I selling out? Absolutely not. I’m recognizing that putting so much pressure on something I love could make me resent it in the long run. Resentment takes me out of the game early… maybe just before the world was ready to here what I had to say.

What is your longterm financial plan? What questions would you ask yourself and others if money weren’t an issue? Do you want to be able to freely ask those questions and freely explore the answer?

-Travis

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