I’ve started a lot of things.
And just in the last month, a video series #HipHopInnovates (I was supposed to drop a new episode every weekday), and #40DaysAnd40Nights, this personal blog, which I was supposed to be doing every day for 40 days.
On the latter, I’ve already missed 3 out of 7.
Maybe I’ll be able to pull it off and be more consistent. But if I don’t, it won’t be the first creation of mine that dies on the vine.
I’ve been criticized the past by some for this urge to keep starting new things — never “finishing” something, or seeing things through to their completion. There is something to that critique — I’ve had to get better at time management, and decision-making when it comes to taking on new work or projects. Still, in my defense, I would always argue that even the things that I create that don’t work out how I want them to, all feed each other, and are necessary to keep the entire Manny Faces ecosystem alive.
Sometimes I truly believed that.
But other times, I wondered if that flaw of mine was going to take me under, and that I would aimlessly drift from project to project, always distracted by the siren call of the next brilliant idea or lured off course by an offshoot of some earlier brilliant idea.
It was hard to sunset Birthplace Magazine. For almost ten years I had given blood, sweat, tears, time, money, and soul to that online publication, covering New York hip-hop music and culture long after hip-hop media turned its back on the genre’s Mecca. Sure, some other industrious bloggers or broadcasters showed love to some of New York’s progressive indie scene and long-running event series, but it was intermixed with their coverage of others from other areas.
I am pretty confident that from 2008-2018, no single person represented New York hip-hop music and culture more than I did.
I wanted Birthplace Magazine to succeed and become more sustainable, but I never could quite get it there. To be fair, I was always juggling a full-time job, family commitments, and had no real resources to speak of (though much love to those who did help along the way)…
But as I was expanding my own interests and goals, I realized at some point that I just couldn’t keep it going, not the way it deserved. The other work, the new new shiny thing, was really important and required my full attention.
So I shut it down. Yet doing so, really made me wonder — am I just starting another thing that I’ll eventually also have to kill?
This week, I was editing a podcast called The Pivot Factory Podcast. The host and CEO of The Pivot Factory is a guy named Michael Leadbetter, who interviews other CEOs and ingenious business leaders who are growing their businesses in explosive ways — a phenomenon that is referred to as exponential growth.
In this soon-to-be-released episode, Leadbetter interviews the head of a cybersecurity firm. In that interview, that cyber firm leader speaks how he achieved this warp speed of growth. He details the “pivots” he had to make along the way, describing some of his efforts as the difference between “revolution” and “evolution.”
It was true, he explained, that some companies will have an “aha moment” and completely shift the focus of their business — implement some revolutionary change that catapults them into exponential territory. But sometimes, it is a series of trials and errors, finding what works in a system or product or process, dumping what doesn’t, adding something new, always reshuffling and tweaking, keeping pace with the rapid changes in technology and adapting to how the modern world works. That evolutionary process — starting a lot of new things, sometimes ending the old ones abruptly, sometimes letting them linger on for too long, sometimes morphing them into new things — is part of a cycle which can place you atop the food chain, without ever shedding a drop of revolutionary blood.
I’ve witnessed some of this in my own growth. The NY Hip Hop Report was a podcast I began in 2012, before the recent craze where everybody and their grandmother has a podcast. I did it (almost) every Sunday night, live, for a couple of years. After a hiatus, I tried to bring it back as a videocast for a but, but eventually, unceremoniously put it to bed. I hated that I could never get it to a larger audience, get picked up by a larger platform.
I felt that I had failed.
Still, I would soon thereafter use that experience to produce The Manny Faces Show, an entertainment “magazine” type of podcast — different than a live show in that it was much more pre-produced, with much more planning and editing and narrating. It was good, but that too, died out after a while. Same feelings.
But, unbeknownst to me at the time, those experiences had primed me to produce and host News Beat, an award-winning podcast where a team of stellar news writers and I craft audio documentary-like episodes that mix hard-hitting, social justice journalism — including interviews with experts, scholars, and activists — with music and original lyrics by independent rap artists.
We like to say it’s like Democracy Now! and Black Thought had a podcast baby.
Had I not started those things — those bold ideas which eventually met with whimpering demise — those quality things that far too few people experienced — those things that simply failed — I never would have been in the position to do this incredibly important work, merging together all of my life’s passions — hip-hop, journalism, social justice — into one beautiful symphony.
It kinda worked out perfectly, and it was something I never could have planned.
So, as I had always suspected, I think there is indeed something to be said for starting something new. And then starting something new. And then starting something new.
As long as you know when to pivot.
William Faulkner warned that in writing, and I suspect this is good advice in all of these creative endeavors, you must know when to “kill your darlings.”
Killing Birthplace Magazine was killing my biggest darling, and it was hard. But I did it so I could open up time and energy so I could start a hip-hop nonprofit, and do more public speaking and lecturing about the vast benefits of hip-hop music and culture, and I would not have gotten to the point where, for example, this weekend I’ll be presenting at Ohio State University and keynoting a talk at Carnegie Mellon & Google. I still spread the word about New York-hip-hop, but this other work is also incredibly important has been very fulfilling. Still, to get here, I had to not only start something new yet again but kill something off, something I really loved.
It is the learning from those sacrifices that is the important thing. Those closures. Those failures. Those things that you said you’d do every day but really only do every few weekdays. Because then you will keep adapting with the times. You’ll keep learning new skills. You’ll keep opening and exploring new horizons.
For me, I just keep starting. Start something new. Restart something old. Mix two things together. Rip some things apart. Work on something new with someone else. Start something outside of your comfort zone. I think that’s all OK. I think that’s how you keep evolving. And I think that’s one thing you never want to finish.