Unless you’re born into a royal family, chances are you will have to start from the bottom and work your way up in life. If that sentence doesn’t apply to you, then HI, PRINCE HARRY! Thanks for buying my book—or, you know, demanding it. Whatever.
If you want to be the CEO of a company, you might have to start out as a sales rep. If you want to be a director, you may have to get your foot in the door by being production assistant. If you want to be an actor, you will likely have to fight your way into auditions. Many situations in life require us to climb an invisible ladder, and it’s not usually an easy climb. You have to earn each rung.
When I first started out on YouTube, I was thirsty for knowledge and wisdom. I lived in Toronto, but most of my peers were living in L.A. and were inaccessible to me. I was yearning to make meaningful connections with other creators, and so when I discovered that Harley Morenstein from Epic Meal Time, a very big YouTube channel, was in my city, I instantly tweeted him. Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting a reply. At the time I had around 100,000 subscribers and Harley’s following was a lot bigger than mine.
But to my surprise, Harley messaged me back and said he’d love to sit down together. He had a meeting but would message me after. He was staying in a hotel downtown, about thirty minutes from my house. I was overjoyed that he responded, and from that point on I was glued to my phone. Every four minutes I would check my direct messages to ensure I didn’t miss anything. Then it occurred to me that Harley had never actually told me what time his meeting was and so I had no idea when we would meet. What if he finished his meeting and then had only fifteen minutes to spare and I was thirty minutes away? Or even worse, what if he messaged during rush hour and it took me an hour and a half to get downtown? Those were risks I simply could not take. I texted two of my friends and told them we were going downtown for no reason at all. Like good friends (who also had no choice), they agreed.
I spent the entire evening roaming around downtown to ensure I was in close proximity to Harley if he messaged me. As it got later, our roaming was reduced to just sitting in a car parked on the side of the street somewhere downtown. What if he didn’t message? Or what if he messaged saying he could no longer make time? These questions were valid, but I continued to sit in the car with my friends, some good music, and a whole lot of faith. Soon enough my phone pinged, and to my relief it was Harley saying he had just finished his meetings and was free to meet. Well, would you look at that—I was already downtown! WHAT A COINCIDENCE!
My two friends and I met Harley and I had a great forty-five- minute conversation with him. He taught me so much about YouTube and brand deals and gave me advice that helped shape the career I have today. The guidance I got from Harley that evening gave me the boost I needed to move up from the first rung of the ladder I was on. You could even say that he reached down from several rungs above and gave me a helping hand.
I hope that story was motivating, but I realize it might also sound a little stalkerish, which I’m okay with. Harley and I are friends now and I’m confident he would be okay with me stalking him anytime.
This wasn’t the only time I did something ridiculous in hopes of establishing a meaningful connection with someone I find inspirational. A few years ago I was sitting at the airport waiting to board a flight. As soon as they called my zone number, I heard my phone ping. It was a direct message on Twitter. I opened it and instantly lost all chill. The friend I was traveling with thought I was having heart failure because I froze with my jaw dropped. The message was from MIA (only one of the best female rappers ever!) and said, “Hey, can we do something?” Casually. MIA. Messaging me. To do something.
Extremely frazzled, I got on the plane and responded as quickly as possible before being forced to go into airplane mode. I came up with “I’d love to! Tell me where and when.”
I’M SO ORIGINAL AND FUNNY AND SOCIAL.
For the entire plane ride I was anxious because I had no idea what her reply would be. What if her account had been hacked? What if it was her son? What if she’d gotten mixed up and thought I was someone else? People tell me I look like Bruno Mars all the time! When the plane landed, before I did anything else I checked my messages, and squealed when I saw her reply: “Tell me when you’re in NYC.” Well, as fate would have it, I had a gig in NYC the very next week. I’m not being a stalker and making that up—I did actually have a gig. Perfect! I responded and we agreed to meet up in a few days.
I am a fan of MIA’s work and really admire what she does, so I didn’t want to arrive empty-handed. Over the next week I arranged for one of my friends to create a custom art piece that I could gift her. The turnaround time was so rushed that I got the piece delivered to the airport before I left for NYC. When I landed in New York, the experience was very similar to my initial meeting with Harley: I knew which day MIA wanted to meet, but I had no other information and was banking on a reply.
The day we were supposed to meet, I was leaving my hotel room early in the morning to attend some meetings and knew I wouldn’t be back until later that night. I hadn’t heard from MIA in the last few days and the whole meeting seemed to be unlikely.
Discouraged, I looked at the painting as I exited my room. Well, that was a waste. Then a tiny voice inside my head said, “What if she replies?” That was enough for me to turn around and pick up the painting. It was too large to fit in a bag, so I committed to carrying it under my arm around the city for the entire day, just in case she messaged back. Hours passed and I was still carrying this annoying thing around. People were staring at me, my friend was making fun of me, and I was beating myself up. I stopped at a curb to sit down and take a break. As a last-ditch effort, I pulled out my phone and messaged MIA, asking what time and where she’d like to meet. Seconds later she replied and gave me the address of an ice cream shop in Brooklyn. Within the hour I was eating ice cream with MIA and her son, gift in hand, smile on my face. During our conversation, she taught me so much about the music industry and gave me legal advice I’d never heard before. That experience helped me climb yet another rung on the ladder.
These encounters may seem like minor ridiculous things, and you might even think that I was devaluing myself by waiting around for people, but the conversations I had were essential and motivated me to continue my work. When you’re climbing the ladder, the heaviest piece of clothing you wear is often your pride. In my opinion, waiting hours to meet these two people doesn’t mean I don’t know my worth; it means I think they’re worth my time. Both Harley and MIA knew more than I did and had knowledge they were willing to share with me.
The thing about the ladder is that no matter how high a rung you reach, there will always be people above you. And sometimes the people above you will throw stones at you to try to knock you down. This behavior can be intentional or unintentional.
Sometimes they might not even realize their feet are kicking dust onto you. The people above you on the ladder aren’t necessarily rich, famous jerks who look down on everyone else. It’s not about status. That’s the wrong attitude to have. I believe that the people above me on the ladder have more experience and expertise than I do, and I can accept and respect that.
Even today, regardless of the fact that I’ve established myself as a content creator with a large following, I get stones thrown at me from the rungs above. I’ve done countless collaborations with movie stars and musicians, but when a new one is presented to me, I still have to go to hell and back to make it happen. I’m required to send three script ideas, and when the producers don’t like any of those, I’m asked to send three more by the next morning as if that’s an easy thing to do. Once I get a script approved I’m told I have fifteen minutes to shoot a video that will probably take sixty minutes. The video can only be shot on a day when I’m already completely booked, so now I have to rearrange my schedule. What do I do? I could reply with a middle-finger emoji, but that wouldn’t be very productive. I put my pride aside and smile throughout the process, as long as the outcome results in an awesome video I’m proud of. That’s climbing the ladder. No one said that some rungs wouldn’t be covered in BS.
It’s a hard ladder to climb. There will be obstacles, exhaustion, and sometimes even a few snakes along the way (now it’s the Snakes and Ladders game). But when you climb the ladder you learn lessons, build character, and earn knowledge. The worst thing you can do is act entitled when you are at the bottom of the ladder, refusing to get sweaty.
It doesn’t work like that.
Sometimes to be inspired, successful, or supported you need to sit in a car on the side of the road for three hours. Other times you might have to be that crazy lady carrying a huge painting. Maybe it’ll be worth it or maybe it won’t be. Either way, you keep climbing like a Bawse.