Seems like the number of days between these blog posts is getting longer and longer *covers face*. My apologies to all who follow this blog, it’s been a crazy couple months. Between preparing for the launch of E.X.O. Part Two later this month, finalizing the script for Malika: Warrior Queen (Spring 2017) and expanding the YouNeek YouNiverse with WindMaker (currently in development) it’s been a crazy, tough, painful, but fun ride! But it’s good to be back, so let’s get right to it. Today’s topic in my ongoing “Creating an African Superhero” series is “How to Survive While Chasing the Dream.” If you’d like to read the previous posts, you can view them here. They basically chronicle the failures, successes and lessons I’ve learned while trying to create and promote a mainstream, African superhero universe (via the comic & animation mediums) titled: The YouNeek YouNiverse.
I get the reaction all the time “What? You quit your job and now you write superhero stories?! How is that possible?” Well it’s possible, but definitely not easy. In fact, quitting my day job, chasing this dream (for a little over one year now) while trying to pay bills and live a functional life has been the most trying times of my life… Which leads to (Using the Mandarin’s voice from the infamous Ironman 3 movie) Lesson Number One: Achieving something great requires great sacrifice. As painful as it has been, this has also been the most rewarding time of my life. In one year I have achieved things I thought would never happen in my life time. So, if you’re considering making the bold leap to chase your dreams (whether it’s starting your own comic, a business idea, directing a movie or another creative venture) full time or you already made the leap and are questioning yourself (like I do almost every month when I have to decide between paying my car insurance and buying a new pair of Ferragamo shoes), here’s a list of 7 things that have worked/are working for me as I keep chasing my own dreams. Hopefully this helps a little.
1. Have A Vision
“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” One of my favorite bible verses. And it’s 100% true when chasing a dream. Without a map for where you are going, you will eventually get lost. You need both a short term and a long term plan. But know that these plans WILL eventually get busted. You always have to be ready to adjust. But it’s easier to adjust when you at least have a overall road map of what you want to achieve. Also, you must know “why” you are doing what you are doing. Never focus solely on what (your product, your business, your book etc.), focus also on why. This is what people (your clients, fans, customers etc.) will be drawn to. So always be able to say: “I’m doing this because….”
2. Be Ready To Make Sacrifices… A LOT
I wasn’t kidding when I said achieving something great requires great sacrifice. There’s no two ways about it, if you want to achieve success and/or achieve a life long dream you WILL go through pain. Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishing houses before it was accepted, Steven Spielberg was rejected from University of Southern California School of Theater 3 times and the list goes on (see more here). It just comes with the territory. You will feel left out when you see people doing fun stuff and you have to stay home to put in extra work, you will get depressed when you can’t go shopping for months because you’re on a lean budget, you will get frustrated when you work twice as hard and twice as long as you did at your day job only to earn a quarter (sometimes nothing) of what you did. This is where having a vision and knowing “why” keeps you going. Being mentally prepared to make these sacrifices ahead of time helps tremendously! One quote that constantly inspires me is “Success is a very, very lonely road… You are going to see your shadow most of the time…”
3. Have A Solid Financial Plan…
…That will more than likely go to crap. But again, it’s easier to adjust when you have a plan than when you don’t. Trying to make financial adjustments without first having an overall financial plan is like trying to merge onto a highway while blindfolded. It’s not going to end well. Money is usually the greatest factor that keeps people from chasing after their dreams. I know because it held me back for a while and still terrifies me till today. These are some of the things I did (before quitting my job) to alleviate the anxiety:
- I made sure I had 3 months of my 9-5 paycheck saved up before I made the leap.
- I cut my monthly expenses by about 40%.
- I built a dependable and solid client base for my secondary business (see my next point).
- Consulted with my accountant for tips.
(*Disclaimer time: In no way am I advocating you quit your job to chase your dreams. Some people actually have both. Quitting your job is a very risky decision. One you must think VERY carefully about. However if you are at the point were you comfortable enough, the tips above will definitely help!)
4. Get A Side Hustle (If You Can)
My main gig is YouNeek Studios i.e selling my books as well as merchandise and licenses tied to my all original characters/stories (and eventually animated products). I’ve been lucky enough to be able to pull in a decent amount of cash to keep me happy, but thats not my only source of income. I also run another business called Roye Productions which focuses on Website Design, Branding & Online Marketing for small businesses. This helps me supplement the money I get from YouNeek Studios, allowing me survive this indie comics life lol. It was always my plan to keep this going simultaneously (not as a backup). So if you have some secondary (or primary) skill that you can monetize (and gives you flexibility with your time) while you chase your dream, I suggest you invest time in it. If you’re an artist working on your indie comic, keep doing commissions, design logos, brochures etc. If you’re a director working on your indie film, edit videos for clients. You can even take this a step further and get a remote job and work from home (which gives you flexibility) while you slowly pursue your life long dream. Check out websites like FlexJobs that offer only telecommuting opportunities. If you are looking for work as a freelancer, check this sites out.
5. Get A Support System
This is so key! You need like minded people to lean on as you strive for success. So surround yourself with people who want to achieve greatness, trust me, it rubs off on you. They become not just a support system, but a system of accountability. They will more than likely also be your first clients/fans which is a much needed boost when you start (they will be more forgiving when you mess up). Another person I really recommend having (if you can find a good one) is a mentor. A great mentor will save you a lot of time and headache. Finding one within your industry/field can be a life saver. They’ve more than likely been through everything you will go through so their experience is indispensable! Please remember though, this is not a person that will solve ALL your problems, you WILL still make your own mistakes. The key is learning from the ones you’ll inevitably make and avoiding the ones you don’t need to make. I read a blog post last week that perfectly describes this point. Check it out here. One way to build this support system is to begin attending networking events. I’ll share a quick story. I attended a major entertainment content market event called MIPCOM last year. I quickly made a friend on day one. This guy just happened to love my book so we got along nicely 🙂 By the end of the conference he had introduced me to people that worked at Disney, BET, Viacom and more! I still have those people in my network today. It’s cool to stay behind your desk and put in long hours, but there’s just stuff you cannot achieve without leaving your comfort zone and exploring. So… Make sure you network!
6. Educate Yourself
Never, ever stop learning. Albert Einstein said “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” I identify 100% with this. I’ve been so fortunate to achieve some great things in my short time in the comic book industry, but it’s not because I have any glaring talent. I recognized that early on and decided that if I have no special talent then all I can do is vow to always outwork everyone and learn as much as I can, as fast as I can.
7. Trust Yourself & Don’t Look Back
Chasing your dreams is tough (did I say this already?). You will feel like you made a mistake choosing this path, you will lose money, you will waste money, you will make bad decisions, people will cheat you, people will question your decision (most will do it because they love and care about you), you will question your decision, you will want to quit, you will cry. I say this because all of the above happened to me (except I did not cry… Okay maybe I cried a bit, so what). But if you truly believe in your heart that this is where you are meant to be, then don’t look back. Keep pushing, be persistent and keep fighting. I promise you eventually things will slowly start to make sense. There’s a flip side to this though. Which is when it comes to quitting your job and pursuing your dream full time… it’s not meant for everybody. And that’s absolutely okay as well. Because at the end of the day, the ultimate dream/goal should be to live a happy life and spread love while doing that. Whatever gets you to that position, is what you should always fight for.
Let me know what you think in the comments section. Would love to hear from you 🙂
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Roye Okupe is a veteran creative specialist who holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s in computer science from The George Washington University. His passion for animation led him to found YouNeek Studios in 2012, an avenue that would allow him pursue his dream of creating a diverse library of superheroes. Roye released chapter 1 of his debut, superhero graphic novel titled: E.X.O. The Legend of Wale Williams, a superhero story set in a futuristic Nigeria. E.X.O. was received with critical acclaim and has since been featured on CNN, Forbes, BBC, The Huffington Post, Mashabe and more!