As a millennial, the notion of not achieving IG-worthy “success” with a polished come-up story by some arbitrary age is a difficult thought to bare. However, many of us who have taken detours from our premeditated paths of glory into corporate work environments—the armed forces in my case—have seen the other side of the coin. Those of us who have transitioned into different paths and roles ultimately come to a complete turn in the wheel, realizing that we are actually attaining our dreams even when we feel furthest from them.
Young adults today often have to abandon picture-perfect plans and travel obscure paths on their journey while still believing each experience will help fulfill their greatest hopes and dreams. I call this phenomenon Millennial Illusions of Grandeur. It’s absurd yet wholly necessary to succeed in today’s world. I was first exposed to this truth through the come-up story of one of my favorite rappers, Nipsey Hussle. But it took a detour from my own imagined path of success to truly get the lesson.
Since joining the Air Force, I’ve been able to see a new side of life. Prior to jumping into the military, I was still continuing to build clientele and create as a musical producer and engineer. But transitioning into an environment such as the military, where spontaneity and creativity aren’t paramount, didn’t limit the development of my self-understanding. I’ve been able to understand who I am and those I surrounded myself with, as well as the way I assert the accomplishment of my personal mission.
In the earlier years of my twenties, I spent most of my time as a creative hoping to find that one booking, that one client, or that one studio to lift me into my glory moment. Things are so different now. My decision to jump out of the studio and crash land into Uncle Sam’s military was honestly pretty hasty. Like many struggling artists of our time, I wasn’t able to support myself the way I envisioned while splashing in the creative pond of a small city.
Many of my closest clients and partners wondered if this was right for me, or if I was even serious. They also knew the reality of our situation. I had put in a lot of time and a lot of work as a creative in my town and to be honest, I was trading in quite a bit of value for an unknown return.
Initially, when I hit Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base, I figured it would be a quick 8-week transition into becoming a mentally and physically strengthened warrior. I was wrong. I was put into a situation where all of my skills amounted to nothing but an ego and I was pitted against the facts of my new reality. I was put on to sets of operational orders to be followed precisely; I couldn’t deviate from the objective or the particular way things were to be accomplished.
At this point an internal grievance was being filed. I quickly realized that the self is prepared to take on challenges, but the self we identify with is an entirely different set of rationalized mantras and expectations. I learned that the moment of “success” we search for is actually opened and received when limiting thoughts are removed.
See, many of us young entrepreneurs are looking for big breaks that give us license to believe we are successful. But it is quite the opposite. Success is the accumulation of small moments and actions which eventually bring us to the ultimate peak of our abilities and attributes.
2018 has brought us examples of how self-actualization through small moments is required to attain your dreams. For instance, consider veteran Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle, along with other West Coast dreamers turned icons such as Kendrick Lamar and the master of it all, Dr. Dre. They have undergone extraordinary transitions in both their professional lives and, more importantly, their personal ones.
Recently, Nipsey was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2019 GRAMMY Awards for Victory Lap. If you’re familiar with him, you would know this has been a long-projected dream of his for which he’s had to overcome constant obstacles.
Nipsey is native to one of L.A.’s most infamous urban centers, Crenshaw. Similar to the stories of Lamar and Dre, Nipsey was subject to the realities of gang life, but also the opportunity to make a name for himself. Hussle faced many challenges within his clique during their initial startup phase. Early on in their journey, a member of Hussle’s clique was incarcerated, only to return when All Money In—Hussle’s Label—came to fruition and a booming million dollar operation. Not to mention that Hussle had been incarcerated himself prior to AMI’s pop.
In Nipsey’s documentary Crenshaw and Slauson, we learn that Hussle wasn’t just a lyricist or musician, but he was also a businessman, taking risk and financing his sweat equity to turn his imagination into something more.
What one could take away from this is if you continue on your own path and believe in the process of the journey, you may arrive at a place that is fundamentally more fulfilling than money or fame. In Hussle’s latest track “Perfect Timing,” he explains the level to which he was mentally driven and the cost of many of his mistakes, as well as the necessity of staying the course in order to rise to the level you imagine, even when it doesn’t look or feel right.
Sometimes perfect timing feels like I’m too late
But I know you still great in spite of your mistakes
Before you run your race you gotta find a pace
Just make sure you cross the line, and fuck the time it takes
I got out the county jail 2008
With an infectious beat and a solid lyrical format, Hussle truly brings himself to the forefront of the conversation as one of the few artists that continued to “run his race” despite where life placed him or what barriers arose on his winding path. “Perfect Timing” is a concise poetic script of Hussle’s journey, while his debut album Victory Lap serves as the lyrical anthology to his ultimate goals despite what others expected of him as he leveled up in the game.
Appreciation for and patience with your progress is a simple mindset that many of us have a hard time adopting because of romanticized social media lifestyles, celebrities, and icons. We often fall short of our true contribution to our generation and beyond because we underestimate the growth that can happen in the absence of surface-level success. For those that have found their way to success, we often find parallels in their stories. But what we don’t find, and what we as aspiring self-actualizers often miss, is awareness of the entire scope of life while building toward your ultimate end goal.
Perhaps our generation is too self-absorbed. But Millennial Illusions of Grandeur kept an imprisoned Black man from Crenshaw on the path toward the GRAMMYs, and they’ve helped me make sense of my intense pivot away from my passion and into Air Force life. In an internet-driven world full of distractions and hyperreal images, such illusions help us find value in all of life’s experiences until the illusion becomes real.