The pursuit

It happened at the end of August, all in one day, it seemed. I could not sleep, could barely eat, could hardly focus. It seemed that 14 years of consistently pursuing a dream had caught up to me.

Friends and family and anyone who knows me, admire me. Admire me for my determination and ambition. On the outside, I was successful. On the inside, I wasn’t.

Exhausted. This pursuance of a dream had left me empty in other areas of life. Health, relationships, the things that really matter.

Was God trying to tell me something? It was the first time in my career where I paused. It was like a sudden halt at a quickly changing red light.

But is this what it costs to pursue a dream? I wrote about this in my book in a chapter titled Ambition Tax. That when you feel pain, it’s a byproduct of trying to achieve what you want. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe being comfortable with the uncomfortable isn’t the right path. Maybe ignoring the things that matter to attain things that don’t is an illusion. Sleeping on a box spring in my Brooklyn apartment has sold plenty of books, but how has it affected me?

Balance. It’s hard to achieve. Artists know this very well. People with creative ambitions become obsessive about making it work. I know I have. But it has deeply affected me, in ways I may have been to prideful to admit.

But I’ve ignored all the signs, all in pursuit to make it work. To make good on my promise to myself. At a cost. That’s not to say my pursuit hasn’t worked.

This year, I was awarded greatly for my efforts. The year began with a two page spread in Black Enterprise magazine, which no doubt boosted book sales and popularity. This came with an invitation to South Africa and London and Boston. This came with new voiceover work debuted at the Rio Olympics. Considering all I’ve ever wanted out of my career, this has been the best year of my career so far. And at the same time, the worst. How sway? What good is all the success if you can’t enjoy it.

It’s because after you achieve all of this, you realize what you’ve neglected in pursuit of it. That’s what, I can only assume, rappers like J. Cole keep rapping about wishing they weren’t famous. Boo hoo, I say. But they’d take the money, if it could come without neglect of what matters. And I’m not as popular or nearly as wealthy as Cole, but it’s the principle. After achieving your wildest dreams, you begin to wonder “What is all this for?” And at what cost?

I meet very successful people who are impressed with what I’ve been able to achieve. And I say to them, I wish I was you. I wish I didn’t care so much about success and grind and hustle. I wish I could relax. I wish I could focus on what really matters. This is not to say that the opposite of me is right, but it is to say I yearn to strike a balance. Being from Brooklyn, you have this spirit of achievement. And most times, over achievement. Gift and a curse.

As a culture, we’re obsessed with this progression and dominance and notoriety. And it’s affecting our lives in damaging ways. I used to support the No Days Off philosophy but it’s just not healthy. How much more enjoyable could life be if you just let go of the need to constantly “be” something?

Lately, I’ve gone to gatherings and talked with friends who ask me “What’s next?” And I’ve become allergic to that question. Nothing is next. For the first time, ever, I don’t crave to be married to the game. And I do not know what’s next, neither do I want to talk about it. I must make time for things that really matter, and don’t want life to just pass me by, as it has.

None of this sank in until I was riding my bike off the coast of Cape Town. It was me with twelve other strangers, from around the world. As I struggled to make it up and down the hills of the road, I was in the moment. I was there, thousands of miles away from home, with nowhere to be. For the first time in my entire life up to this point, I was in the moment. I could feel, I could see, I could smell. Life’s essential treasures. And I’ve never realized I don’t live in the moment until I actually experienced it.

The bottom line is this. I’ve been going so hard for 14 years. I want to see what life is like when I’m not in constant pursuit of something.

Kareem