I didn’t plan on writing this. It was definitely not on my list of upcoming topics for WEIRDOS, and while I do believe most of those ideas are probably more fitting for the column, in light of recent events, I wanted to share some thoughts on creativity, originality, and forging your own path. A lot of people ask me how I push my ideas through to fruition, how I overcome professional hurdles, and how I deal with all the associated negativity, so I wanted to answer that in a more long form and public way. It’s the end of the year and I’m feeling introspective, maybe this will be helpful to someone. If not, at least it’ll be cathartic for me. There’s no one telling me what to do here, I’m trying my best. This is how I see it, take it or leave it.
Creating The Life You Want
I learned pretty young that with a bit of creativity it was relatively easy to get the simple things I wanted. For the sake of relating here, things like weed, or access, became a game of reverse engineering from the destination I desired. I would start with the goal, and then think of all the possible ways I could imagine to get there – ruling out the ridiculous or obscene in real time, and usually presenting a few solid paths for further inspection. Eventually I’d land on the one that felt like the most unusual, but creative, constantly betting on myself that the surprise and delight of a new perspective could cover the tolls, so to speak. It’s fair to say that in most cases, with perseverance, I reached my destination.
Of course, soon after I learned not all wants were simple. Things like love, happiness, or wealth, aren’t as easy to acquire as a dub. There’s an unwritten rule book to most games in life, and these, like business, are no exception. I believe many of the details of the most complex human issues remain somewhat a mystery despite being understood by many largely because the ‘powers that be’ so to speak don’t really want us to know how to win. They want us to work, not read. Being born into essentially the ‘human labor’ class, it was shoved down my throat from the second I was conscious that I had to work long and hard to get any type of ahead. That you start at the bottom and work your way up. That some entry level employee ends up CEO. It’s the only way, they said. What a crock of shit that was. Everyone left out the unfair advantages some players receive, like being born with a high IQ, into a well off family, or even just being white. They forget to tell you that MOST don’t ever get that key role, or even a proper thanks for playing. Fortunately, born with some of these advantages, I figured that by evolving the math I had worked out in my head for simple wants that had worked thus far I could skip past a lot of the bullshit. Essentially that a new way could prove to be the best way, if you will. Maybe even a model for others. So once again, I started betting on myself and skipping the lesson plan. This was both a blessing and a curse, but I’ll get more into that later.
Now, I’m not pretending I have all the answers here, I’m just some schmuck like you, but I’ve been pretty fortunate so far trusting my instincts and staying true to what I believe to be the best course for whatever situation, so I want to tell you a bit more about the how and why of who I am so you can see how this approach has paid off. I know they force feed us a specific future from the time we’re very young, but that’s not all there is.
When I was a kid I loved music. I wanted to go to concerts all the time. I wanted to live in ‘the scene’. But I was broke – like couldn’t keep a dollar long enough to make two, and while my parents aptly covered all my needs, they couldn’t fund that addiction. So how could I get into shows? The solution I came up with was by making myself valuable to the artists, or the label. At first this was as simple as designing AIM icons for the bands I liked who would simply gift me tickets to their local date as a thank you – which is AOL Instant Messenger, basically early texting for those of you born after the new millennium, and then it turned into street teaming, where it became my job to be in the venues holding the shows I wanted to see. From that I flipped to managing the street teams, interfacing directly with label management, and once even acted as a US address to receive merch boxes for touring artists worried about getting them through customs. (I’m not going into more details on that because I don’t want to create a liability for my parents whose house I was living in at the time, but hopefully we’re past whatever statute of limitations exist for whatever offense that would be.)
The point is, whatever I could do to be helpful was more effective for me than saving funds to go to the shows, and the new experiences provided new opportunities for me to flourish I would’ve never seen from the start. Eventually I learned that artists needed help with representation – the why behind managers and agents – and realized I could help my friends who were chasing their dreams with a scaled back version of those services, making them seem more professional while also giving them the tools to do these things themselves. I saw it as a community service. That quickly turned into producing my own events. This is starting to sound like a fucking autobiography, but I say all this to say, by the time I was 17 I had done most of the shit I thought was my bucket list. I had to start dreaming bigger.
This is probably when the concept of manifestation first came into my purview. I realized that all I had done so far was basically from sheer willpower. I had no special skills going in. No one told me how or to do any of the stuff I had done thus far, in fact often the opposite, but I was already surpassing my own expectations, so why let off the gas? It was my instincts that moved me to California, and made me respond to the weird Craigslist post that introduced me to my mentor and my first real agency job, which landed the High Times gig literally in my lap. But it was seeing and believing the opportunities I needed were out there before knowing what they were. I’ve never said this publicly, but when I was like 19 I got invited to be a judge at The Harvest Cup in New York because I had gotten a rep for sniffing out (and selling) quality buds. That was right around the time I was getting into this concept. Hand to god, the first thing I can remember consciously manifesting was ‘One day I’m going to judge the real Cannabis Cup, for High Times’… now here we are.
My friend Joey swears by manifestation. He will literally scribe the word, and his desires, into his artwork. Though I’ve only known him a few years, I’ve watched him seemingly pull rewards from the universe. This is admittedly insane, but I truly believe a good chunk of the success of BAYC came from his willpower alone. Had I trusted his instincts I would likely be much more well off now. (As an aside, I sent him this piece to see what he thought and if I could use a piece of his work as the cover shot and he sent back the artwork featured (posted again below) which he made fresh specifically for this – talk about manifesting greatness.) My late friend Jesse said he was going to be a chef, much to the chagrin of his record executive father. Somehow he took a simple concept and in a few years spun himself into a cultural icon before his passing, solely through his own wit. Most cultivators literally built their name out of dedication and dirt. I say this to say, you don’t have to take my story as gospel, but these are a few quick others I consider proof that trusting yourself, and being the most authentic you you can be, is the best path to success.
Happy Little Accidents
Now while I say all that, we all know life is far from a perfect story. Just because you set your destination doesn’t mean you’ll get there, and the route is rarely as well-paved as it seems from the directions. You will undoubtedly encounter hurdles you never expected, and in the moment they will seem bigger than anything you’ve overcome before. Trust me, when you’re 20 years old and you’ve signed a contract guaranteeing someone $6,000, when you barely have $500 to your name (less than your rent), is not stress you expect when you set out to do something cool. But challenges also provide opportunities, and as they say, pressure makes diamonds.
That money I just mentioned? It was for the first big production I was doing in New York City. It was for a dubstep artist called Borgore from Israel before that scene had really broken into the states. It was booked for a Wednesday in December. At the last minute there was a blizzard. We had only sold I think like 126 tickets when the snow started falling.
For those doing the math, it wasn’t looking good. I was ripping my hair out, but we couldn’t cancel. We had faith that what we knew was a good idea would work out in the end, or at least set the stage for the future. Worst case we’d learn an expensive lesson and be in debt for a while, but it wouldn’t kill us.
But we got really lucky, it paid off massively. It was a 650-person room that ended up selling close to 800 tickets. Over 600 of that was walk up – in thigh high snow piles on a weeknight. Now I’m not saying that was smart, but it worked out – and had we not done it there’s no way the venue managers would have introduced me to all those labels as some sort of psychic. I was just trusting what I loved, but because it wasn’t en vogue yet, they all doubted it – until they saw their checks.
Now while this is obviously another lesson in trusting your instincts, I chose this example to express that it was the compounded pressure of all those other stressors that really woke me up. The win was that much bigger because we had overcome what seemed like insurmountable odds. We were literally figuring out how we could get a loan, and then ended up earning the largest check I’d ever seen. I cried happy tears driving home for the first time in my life.
But here’s the thing, after that, winning had gone to my head, and I started to think that I had all the answers. I stopped mapping out a million plans and started going with the first one that came to mind, assuming naturally that it was a winner too. Once you beat one level you want to get on to the next, right? Remember earlier how I mentioned skipping the lesson plan? Well most of my 20’s were spent realizing that if I didn’t at least know what the plan was supposed to be, I wasn’t actually optimizing my path. I had a college degree, but I had barely paid any attention because all my energy was going to efforts outside of the classroom that seemed to be working. And while they were, and in retrospect everything worked out, there were some really rough weeks and months spent trying to figure out things I would have known had I just read the textbook in class. I now love the phrase ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ because you really don’t, and there’s so much more than whatever it is you think you understand!
So I started reading more, and eventually caring about how business was actually done – not just fundamentally, or morally, but in the real world. It turned out the game was a lot more rigged than I ever anticipated. The way money protects itself, the way institutions shut down the little guy. How both parties are just billionaires who actually need the status quo the way it is to maintain their power, and line their pockets. The deeper I dove and the higher I rose, the darker things seemed.
Paint Away The Pain
The other, and probably most unexpected struggle I’ve encountered on this path is dealing with the negativity from others. Now, sure, I’ve been used to people not believing in me, but people trying to tear me down? For the most part people never cared, but as soon as you start getting attention the envious appear – and they can really fuck with you.
You see, small people want to bring down people doing what they think are big things. They want you on THEIR level. Or below them, where possible. It’s often just jealousy that you have something they want, as I covered in my ‘Shit Talk’ piece, but adversity is basically guaranteed if you try to do anything new, or different, or potentially better than what exists already. Everybody has opinions they believe to be the most relevant in the world, and remember, bureaucracy especially really hates change. How you respond to it is what truly measures your worth – but I mean this deeper than just your initial reactions. How you respond to any adversity, and spin it either into your advantage, or out of your line of sight, will dictate how far you go with anything in life. It is the only thing that will keep you in the game once you realize it’s likely rigged against you, because not playing isn’t really an option.
Now I will be the first to admit, I am petty but I am working on controlling my ego all around – a process I truly believe is lifelong for everyone, though many haven’t yet understood it. I mentioned judging people based on where I perceive them to be in this process in my episode of First Smoke of the Day, and I’m not sure it was properly understood there, so hopefully this is a bit clearer. It is incredibly hard in the moment not to fire back every time someone makes a witty retort to something I worked hard on, or love. As this week proves I certainly haven’t entirely figured it out, but I’m trying. At the end of the day, that’s all I can do – try to be bigger than any naysayers or doubts, and be better tomorrow than I was today. Try to reverse engineer the world I want to see, be it a life in Los Angeles or a brand’s return to its former glory. That’s the very basic math of how I got here. One step in front of the other, moving toward whatever direction felt right. Whatever gave me that warm feeling inside. Some of that was the desire to do my own thing, and most were influenced by what I deemed the best practices I learned from watching others – there’s a great quote from Chuck Palahniuk from Invisible Monsters that I think is appropriate here:
“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.” – Chuck Palahniuk
I believe this to be fundamentally true, but I also believe that how you mesh that blend of influence is where your creativity and originality really begin, and how you stand out. Exploring what I love, and trying to provide value to its various communities is what got me to the seat I’m in. So why would I let anyone not providing that kind of value tell me it’s worthless when I can see first hand the good it does? Why would I let someone else’s idea of what or who I am replace the truth I know of how far I’ve come, and what I’ve overcome? It’s true when they say you’re your own worst enemy, because you can really only limit yourself.
So what do I do now? This. I take what I’m feeling and I write. Or draw, sometimes even paint. I try to point the light on as many great and inspiring things as I can because it’s all I’ve ever known, and it’s always worked for me. It’s not over, and I’m going to keep doing what feels right because despite all the times in the past people told me I was crazy, or it would ‘never happen’ – even faking the crash landing of a crate of energy drinks onto a college campus for unsuspecting students to find (safely of course) – things worked out for the most part if I didn’t stop at the hurdles. None of this solves the existential dread, but it helps. And when you’re mapping out all the different paths your life could take at any given moment, I highly doubt any of us want to spend any time on the one laden with guilt or regret, right? So just pick your destination, make it something unique to you, and maybe you’ll get there. Maybe you’ll find it’s just your stepping stone, and the universe is saying go bigger. But keep pushing, and make sure you maximize the pursuit of. your passions, because even if you don’t reach what you believe to be your destination, you can wind up somewhere you didn’t know you needed to be. And you’ll have a hell of a story to tell.